A park ranger fingered through leaves and mush that he had scooped from a marshy wetland to find a long-legged water scorpion, leech and wiggly tadpole.
Then he found a miniature fresh-water clam and placed it in a bewildered seventh-grader’s hand.
“It’s small. I’ve never seen one before,” said Serena Avery, a Ballard-Hudson Middle School student who was learning about science at Amerson Water Works Park on Wednesday. “I like finding little creatures in the water and trying to find out what they are.”
NewTown Macon, which runs the park, partnered with area college professors and Bibb County teachers in the past few months to develop lessons to teach middle-schoolers based on a state curriculum.
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The aim is that each year all Bibb County public school seventh-graders will take a field trip to the park to learn.
“I enjoy them being outside,” said Erica Fleming, Ballard-Hudson seventh-grade science teacher. “Being urban, city children, they don’t get in the woods much. They are pointing to everything.”
The students, led by college professors who volunteer as rangers, spent the day identifying organisms in the water, looking for invasive plants and studying archaeo-paleontology.
Amerson Water Works Park is on a 240-acre site of a former water plant, destroyed by the flood in 1994. It has river frontage, wetlands, forest, playgrounds and pavilions. NewTown hopes to connect it with the Ocmulgee Heritage Trail in time. The park is open on weekends and by appointment only during the week for school and community groups, said Laura Schofield, executive vice president of NewTown Macon.
“We are trying to promote the park as an outdoor classroom ... especially in science, history, ecology and archaeology,” she said. “There is a wealth of opportunity out there.”
NewTown also has a limited amount of funding available for transportation costs for local schools that might not have the money to take a field trip to the park.
Down a trail through the woods, a simulated dig site was set up Wednesday for students to find fossils and artifacts native to the area.
Jontavious Johnson, another Ballard-Hudson seventh-grader, found an arrowhead and started to put it in his pocket before rangers told him to throw it back so other students could try to find it later.
This particular arrowhead was probably made in the Philippines as a teaching tool.
Any authentic arrowheads used by the Mississippian culture or Creek Indians that are found at the park are supposed to be turned over to rangers.
But the prospect of such discoveries are quite the temptation to curious students.
To contact writer Julie Hubbard, call 744-4331.