Field day for students
Waupaca seventh graders visit Eco Park
By James Card
Waupaca Middle School seventh graders mucked around in a wetland, handled a hog-nosed snake, tried radio telemetry and learned how glaciers shaped the local landscape.
The outdoor field day on Thursday, Sept. 29, was the first collaboration of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, Waupaca Middle School and Winchester Academy. It was supported by a gift from the Selma and Gerald Knoepfel Memorial Funds of Winchester Academy, a fund within the Waupaca Area Community Foundation.
“Gerald was a music teacher at the high school and Selma was a science teacher at the middle school. What we are doing is spending money on science and music projects in their memory and honor,” said Ann Buerger Linden, executive director of Winchester Academy.
This is the first outdoor experience field day for the middle school students and there are plans to do it again next year and to have other grades involved. It almost didn’t happen because COVID-19 put the idea in limbo.
“We met with the principal and the science teachers from the middle school. This was more than a year ago – to brainstorm the idea,” said Maggie Jones, a Winchester Academy trustee.
The hands-on educational event was held at Waupaca Eco Park. A large white tent and port potties were rented by Winchester Academy and picnic tables were supplied by Park and Rec.
“There are a lot of moving parts and a lot of stuff that pretty cool in the community that’s allowing this to happen. We started the legwork but there are a lot of people that have come through. That’s pretty cool when you’re in a community that does that,” said Kyle Mannel, middle school science teacher.
All 120 students were given a field journal to take notes and they rotated in small groups to one of six stations. At each station was an expert in their particular field of study and some are previous Winchester Academy speakers.
“We emailed out to some college professors and asked them to get involved and to interact with these kids and make these connections. We kept it to 30 minutes at each station and 10 minutes in between to unwind and then head to another station. From what we’re hearing, the presenters are doing awesome,” said Mannel.
Jordan Gade, a student of environmental education at UW-Stevens Point, gave a herpetology presentation inside the Eco-Park cabin and brought forth a collection of squirming skinks, snakes and turtles.
Middle School Principal John Meyer’s passion is geology and geography and he had two plastic swimming pools loaded with sand to demonstrate how glaciers carved out Wisconsin’s topography.
Dr. Sarah Jane Alger, associate professor in the Department of Biology at UW-Stevens Point, gave a talk on animal physiology and behavior.
A small wetland sits in a low area next to the park and Dr. Justin Sipiorski, a biology professor and fish expert, led the students down to the water to dip nets and identify aquatic macro-invertebrates. At another station, students handled Madagascar hissing cockroaches.
Dr. Xia Lee, a postdoctoral fellow at the Midwest Center of Excellence for Vector-Borne Disease talked to the students about wood ticks and the diseases they carry. Students played a game of “tick bingo” and they inspected the svelte figure of Vanessa, a female mannequin, for previously planted dead wood ticks.
Local ecologist and former Waupaca science teacher, Bob Welch, talked about healthy river systems and how to collect samples for microscopes.
“We have a lot of ideas for next year already. All the people here are excited and coming back and we’re going to get more. This is a good park,” said Meyer.