For Jamestown sixth graders, Eco Ed means getting out of the classroom and into nature for hands-on learning at the Pipestem Dam recreation area.

Laura Weis, a sixth grade teacher at Jamestown Middle School, said it’s a good opportunity for the students - and for some parents - to see what is available right here at home.

“Every year sixth graders in the area - we go out to Pipestem and we spend the whole day out there,” Weis said. “And while we’re out there, we learn about ... our ecology and our area, we go into the actual trails.”

It’s a valuable learning opportunity for students, she said.

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“It’s awesome because they learn about, obviously, our region,” she said. “The kids get to go out there (on public lands) and they see that this is available to them.”

Weis said students learn about trees, birds, reptiles, grasslands, water and soil and how to be a good steward with animals.

Kelli Connolly, office manager for the Stutsman County Soil Conservation District, remembers taking part in Eco Ed when she was in the sixth grade. This year was her first as office manager to be on the “teaching side” of the program.

“It is education,” she said of the purpose of the event. “It’s also, it’s great that it’s hands on. They're actually out in the nature, working at the grasses, touching, feeling, seeing. We talk about water quality, woodlands, wetlands, prairie grasses and … soils.”

Just over 200 students from Jamestown Middle School, St. John’s Academy, Pingree-Buchanan, Kensal, Medina and Hillcrest schools attended the event on Sept. 4, which ran from about 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and included lunch.

The students take a test before the event at their school and then after the event to gauge what they’ve learned, Connolly said.

“It’s pretty simple,” she said. “There’s 25 questions, but we have five sessions that they go through that day. Those questions will kind of go over what they will learn in each of those five sessions.”

The students always show improvement in what they knew before and after the sessions, Connolly said.

At Eco Ed, students are split into five groups and spend about 30 minutes at each of five stations at the reservoir. The stations are on soils, water quality, woodlands, wetlands and grasslands. The information includes such topics as different kinds of trees, furs from different animals to touch, what eggs from different birds look like and different types of grasses, Connolly said.

At water quality, for example, the students learn about the effect that a little - and a lot - of water can have on the soil and the animals that live there.

“We had set up, it was a container full of sand and if we ran water through it, kind of like a river, you can see how that just a small amount of water takes some of the sand away,” Connolly said. “Well, if you turn up the water, and have, say a flood, it will take more of the sand. And they even had … like animals and trees in there to show that if the water comes fast and furious, like it does in a flood, it not only takes the sand but it can take the trees and animals and things with it.”

Students got to be a part of that demonstration.

“The kids got to put the trees and the animals in place and see what happens,” she said.

They also talked about pollution. If something happens at one end of the stream, for example, what happens at the other?

The lessons help give students a better understanding of the environment and have been held here for more than 30 years, Connolly said.

Volunteers help instruct the students, she said. The Stutsman County Extension Office helps, along with staff from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Connolly said her enjoyment working with the program for the first time was also echoed in the feedback from those who participated.

“There’s some things you just can’t learn in the class setting,” she said. “So being able to be out there and see and touch and feel, it was … that’s what I enjoy too. To get kind out of the classroom setting, get your brain fired for something new.”