Kings Valley Charter School student Noah King-Groh feels a special connection to wildlife and nature. So as one of the student presenters at Thursday’s 4-H Wildlife Stewards Summit, the junior felt right at home holding a red-tailed boa constrictor and sharing information about the large snake to elementary school students.
“I’m just very passionate about animals — the real world and all of these creatures that are living in it,” King-Groh said. “I don’t know how, but I feel very connected to them and just very intrigued with the way life works.”
The Oregon State University Extension Service has staged the event for 17 years now with Maggie Livesay implementing the program as the 4-H outreach leader. It rotates through different schools with this year representing the first time it has come to the Kings Valley Charter School campus.
Joining KVCS as participants were students from Jefferson Elementary, Corvallis Montessori and Muddy Creek Charter School. In all, Livesay said the number of students in attendance numbered about 210.
“What’s nice about being out here at Kings Valley Charter School is these high school students are here,” Livesay said. “If you go around, you’ll see the high school students doing the actual teaching here.”
The program’s presenters tutored the high-schoolers on what they need to know.
“That’s also a part of 4-H — leadership,” Livesay said. “And we have youth emcees here so we engage youth to do as much as we can at the event.”
For King-Groh, he appeared to be having as much fun as the elementary school students who got an up-close look at the red-tailed boa.
“The kids are loving it,” he said. “Boas are great because they’re very relaxed and not aggressive snakes at all.”
King-Groh said he’s known from the earliest of ages about what he wanted to do for his life’s work. Besides living in a rural area, which provides opportunities to be closer to nature and wildlife, he’s always loved reading books about animals. The subject “grabbed me and I held on,” he said.
“I want to either work in animal husbandry or wildlife conservation and I’ve been dead set on that as long as I can remember,” King-Groh said. “I feel pretty lucky to know what I want do do and that I’ve always known.”
The 4-H Wildlife Stewards Summit typically features third through fifth graders, although second graders were a part of this event at Kings Valley. Teachers go through professional training on various topics and the students participate all year in the program.
Kings Valley fourth and fifth grade teacher Stacey Zabeck has been taking her classrooms to the event for the past four years. What does she believe the kids get out of it?
“To see their creativity come out and the engagement and also the students really ask great questions when they’re in an event like this,” Zabeck said. “They stop and they really start to think about what their environment is doing and what’s happening in it in a very different way than we can in the classroom.”
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And that’s one of the big benefits of the summit — expanding the classroom to the great outdoors.
“One of the things that brings teachers to this program is that they’re getting their kids outdoors, outside the classroom doors, for hands-on learning,” Livesay said.
Livesay used learning about insects as an example.
“If they can go outside and actually see insects in their habitat, then it reinforces the learning in the classroom,” Livesay said. “These are teachers that really believe in that ... It’s not just book learning but it’s hands-on.”
The program requires students to create an educational display.
“They work in teams and create an educational display or a PowerPoint and they give a presentation to a judge and get a ribbon — that’s the 4-H part of it,” Livesay said. “Then the ‘treat’ part of it is they get to rotate through hands-on activities that our community partners have brought to this event.”
The hands-on activities include learning about birds, fish, beavers and the dams they build, reptiles and amphibians and a few other topics. Garden fun included hay bale races and a competition of species survival activity.
Students with the highest scores from the educational display move on to the Benton County Fair and if they win there, then it’s on to the Oregon State Fair. Last year, 36 students out of the program had presentations at the state fair.
“Typically, people think about 4-H as a club and they don’t know that we have a lot of these school programs,” Livesay said. “We see a couple thousand kids a year, actually, through our different school-based programs in 4-H.”
Partners with the summit included the Avery House Nature Center, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Audubon Society of Corvallis, Willamette Valley National Wildlife Refuge Complex, Benton Soil and Water Conservation District and Luckiamute Watershed Council. The Kings Valley Gardens coordinator was also on hand along with 4-H Wildlife Stewards volunteers.
Livesay said the activity helps students meet education standards across several curriculum areas.
“The kids focus on local ecology and they do research on whatever species they chose and then practice their presentation so it meets their speaking standards,” she said. “Then they get skills and teamwork but it really helps the reinforce their standards.”
Sophomores Quinn Mumey and Natalia Huff were among the volunteers in the KVCS gymnasium where the student projects were displayed.
“It’s a really neat experience for a lot of kids to look around and see what’s happening aside from school, to go and do an extracurricular thing like this and participate,” Mumey said. “I feel like it’s a really open opportunity and a really good learning experience for sure.”
Huff believes the program provides a “cool opportunity” for young students that have an interest in wildlife and the environment.
“I think a lot of the kids enjoy doing this kind of thing,” Huff said. “Even though I don’t necessarily take an interest to it, I think it’s really nice for a lot of the kids to have the opportunity to meet other kids from other schools.”
“I’m just very passionate about animals — the real world and all of these creatures that are living in it. I don’t know how, but I feel very connected to them and just very intrigued with the way life works.”
— Noah King-Groh, KVCS junior