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Learning through local experiences

T-R PHOTO BY ADAM SODDERS
A group of soon-to-be fifth graders draw images from nature during a Bobcat University enrichment activity at Grimes Farm and Conservation Center Friday.

For nine months of the year, most school students learn by reading textbooks, taking notes from teachers’ lectures and doing other classroom curriculum activities.

But learning doesn’t stop when a student leaves the classroom, and the Bobcat University summer program offers its hundreds of students a chance to take part in fun, educational activities in the community.

“We offer the enrichment activities as just another way to provide learning,” said Sarah Kenkel, Mid Iowa Community Action (MICA) school-based services coordinator. “Learning comes in many different forms and a lot of different types of learning styles.”

While the students in Bobcat University spend time doing academic classwork, part of the day is spent on enrichment activities. Kenkel said some students learn well through an active, hands-on approach.

Bobcat University activities include swimming, dancing, bowling, STEM learning activities, coding and more. In the last month of the program, students were able to learn from local professionals and visit places like Substance Abuse Treatment Unit of Central Iowa (SATUCI), the IVCCD Orpheum Theater Center Improv Theater group, Marshalltown Community College, Union Grove State Park, Green Castle County Park, Rapha Reins Equine Assisted Learning, Grimes Farm and Conservation Center and more.

Many of those activities placed students in the outdoors.

“I try to do a lot of art incorporated in my programming,” said Marshall County Conservation Board naturalist Emily Herring of Bobcat University activities at Grimes Farm this week.

Specifically, groups of students got to go an a photography scavenger hunt. They were given a list of items found at Grimes Farm to get pictures of, some of which will end up being posted to the department’s Facebook page.

Students also got to practice their art skills through watercoloring.

“Watercolor is good because they go and they sit down and they actually get to see what’s going on around them,” Herring said. “Oftentimes, even as adults, we run around like crazy and we don’t necessarily see what’s in front of us. So, I like doing things where kids have to take the time and look and get all the senses of nature.”

She said county conservation also host fishing, canoeing, birdwatching and other learning opportunities for the Bobcat University students.

Two soon-to-be fifth graders said they enjoyed the field trip activities they experienced during the last several weeks of the program.

“I liked going to the park and playing around and having fun on our field trips,” said student Ryan Grobe.

He said the trip this week to Grimes Farm was among his favorites. He focused on coloring a waterfall image with birds, hills and more. Ryan also said he enjoyed taking photos of the Grimes Farm observation tower, animal tracks and a butterfly.

Fellow student Eme Cruz enjoyed calmly sitting in the sun and drawing a rainbow image with the watercolors.

“My favorites were probably going to (Mega-10) park and dancing,” she said.

Eme also enjoyed the photo scavenger hunt this week. She said she took photos of a butterfly, the observation tower, windmills, a frog and a tree as part of the activity.

Another community partner, Jennifer Daniel of Rapha Reins, said she enjoys getting students familiar with horses.

“We teach them about basic care of the horse and safety,” she said. “Working with the horses teaches self-care, it teaches boundaries … it’s also really good physically because you learn balance, you learn listening skills and motor skills.”

Daniel said the horses can have a therapeutic impact on both children and adults. One example of that calming effect in action took place during the 2018 Bobcat University program.

“Last year it was really awesome because we had a group of kids out here from Bobcat University the week of the tornado. The kids had just been traumatized by the tornado, a lot of them, and so the horses were so calming to them and just really, really helped them,” Daniel said.

She said research shows clear emotional and mental benefits to interacting with horses.

The first session of the Bobcat University program ended Friday. The next session is set to begin July 22 and run through Aug. 6 with a new group of students.