By Heather Pilkington, Register Staff Writer
Gainesville Daily Register
Starting last Monday, fifth grade teachers Peggy Martin, Tracy Henry and Christa Hawk acted as guides for each of the homeroom classes at Lee.
Leeper Lake, Inc. began its establishment as a private hunting and fishing club that includes three natural lakes within 1,400 acres of land preserved specifically for wildlife.
According to the grant application, “planned activities of the day-camp will bring the wonders of southern Oklahoma into memorable ‘hands-on’ experiences of the world around the students. The learning activities of the day-camp will be conducted within the privately-held areas in and round Leeper Lake. This ‘outdoor classroom’ is bountifully supplied with a variety of living plants and animals. The general area is in the overlap of the deciduous forest of the East and the short grass prairies of the West. Here, the plants and animals of both of these natural communities live together and are well represented, along with hybrids that form (from) this association.”
“This is the third year for Camp Leeper that the foundation has awarded the grant,” Director of the GISD Foundation Leslie Nichols said.
According to Nichols, the idea came about because her husband is a member at Leeper Lake and the teachers were looking for an outdoor learning environment to meet the needs of their students’ education.
“It was a combination of what the teachers were looking for and what Camp Leeper had to meet those needs as far as an outdoor learning experience,” Nichols said.
Robert E. Lee principal Courtney Stevens said the fifth graders followed two trails through forest and wooded areas looking for animal tracks and adaptation of plants, both reinforcing concepts they had learned in class.
The grant application said students had the opportunity to study the flora, fauna and geology of the Leeper Lake area and engage in activites including hiking; investigating examples of weathering, erosion and deposition; identifying native plants and animals, as well as, introducted species; and creating casts from animal tracks.
“It was a field trip,” Stevens said. “But, I saw more learning during the trip than I have seen in some classrooms.”
Stevens said there are 11 fifth grade homeroom classes at Lee and teachers took two classes per day. The field trips will continue through Monday due to a cancellation because of rain last Thursday.
Stevens reinforced that all of the activities engaged the students in understanding of the complexities of the Leeper Lake ecosystem supplemented by instruction provided from their teachers that correlated with corresponding 5th grade TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) and STAAR (State Test Assessments of Academic Readiness) requirements. Each student was required to keep a field journal of what they learned and experienced throughout the day. Students recorded observation through notes and sketches and participated in a five minute silent observation.
“The key to making this such a learning experience is the teachers,” Stevens said. “They used vocabulary to put a pictures in those kids’ minds that takes an abstract idea taught in the classroom and enhances it.”
Stevens said during the silent observation the students sat and looked out onto a land bridge connecting the lakes and wrote down everything they could see, smell and hear. At the end of the day, each student summarized what they thought of the experience.
“Today was really cool,” fifth grader Niaomi Dawson wrote in her observation journal. “I loved when we got to use the binoculars and look across the lake. I think I saw an alligator! We got to walk along a lot of trails and we got to learn about the stuff we learn in class, like the transpiration/condensation experiment. Over all, this whole day was completely and utterly awesome!”