by Kristen MinogueIt’s 2 o’clock in the afternoon. In the forest beside SERC’s beaver pond, Dylan McDowell and Shelby Ortiz have just finished helping a dozen 7-to-9-year-old students search for frogs and toads. They’re headed to the stream when McDowell runs into a dilemma: Some of the children don’t want to release their frogs.
“It would be really hard to find frogs around where I live,” says Emma Guy, who doesn’t have any parks or forests near her home.
“Did you know a couple years ago, they found a brand new species of frog in New York City?” McDowell asks her. He’s referring to a new species of leopard frog confirmed in 2012, whose known range has Yankee Stadium almost dead center. Closer to home, SERC biologists discovered juvenile eastern spadefoot toads in one of its wetlands this summer—the toad’s first recorded appearance on the SERC landscape. McDowell’s point, at least for the afternoon lesson: Amphibians can appear almost anywhere if you know where to look.
Education interns McDowell and Ortiz are in charge of SERC’s three summer activity weeks. Today’s theme, selected by Ortiz, was Animals and Gross Things. After leaving the stream, they will switch to dissecting owl pellets. The day before they made fake animal dung (deer scat) out of Play-Doh, part of the “Animals Leave Traces” theme.
“That was something new. They didn’t really understand why it smelled, or why it was important,” Ortiz said. “There was a lot of, ‘Ewwwww.’ But I think they had fun.”
This summer SERC experimented with a new series of activities, including ways to increase the numbers of children and outside groups taking advantage of SERC’s beaches, trails and nature classes. While McDowell and Ortiz planned and ran the three activity weeks for different age groups, Holly hosted children from more summer schools and camps than in years past.
Some groups were completely new to SERC. More than 400 children from Anne Arundel County’s School-Aged Child Care visited in July. The Boys and Girls Club of Annapolis brought another 75 in June. Others came from underprivileged backgrounds, like the 27 grade-school children from Camp Allen who spent a morning searching for crabs on the docks and seining in the river.
“Seeing the reaction of some of the kids that had never been on a beach—it just feels good in the heart to know that you’ve been able to allow those kids that experience,” Holly said.
Teachers reaped some of the benefits as well. SERC hosted three training workshops this summer for educators in Anne Arundel, Louisiana and all across the U.S. in a Smithsonian-wide workshop. It also hosted high school interns from the YES! camp (Youth Engagement through Science), based out of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. And while Holly and the interns were running the visiting camps and summer programs, SERC educator Karen McDonald ran a full slate of homeschool classes.
Summer programs for 2014 are still in the planning stages, Holly said. For updates visit SERC’s website this winter at www.serc.si.edu/education/ or follow SERC’s homeschool blog at http://serchomeschool.wordpress.com.