By Valerie Baldowski
To get a more thorough understanding of environmental science, students visiting Panola Mountain State Park last week waded through a muddy wetlands area in search of frogs and salamanders.
Pupils from Academic Advantage Tutoring, in Stone Mountain, and their teacher, Kim Belt, participated in the hunt as part of their summer camp activities. All of them found themselves knee deep in water and slathered in brown mud as part of the park's "Frog Slog" program.
The program encourages students to investigate the wildlife found in local wetlands and streams. Members of Friday's Frog Slog group were advised to bring a net or bucket, and be prepared to get wet.
Belt said the experience fits in with the other warm-weather activities at the school.
"What we do during the summer with the students is an academic program," she said. "On Fridays, we do academic trips."
Those trips, explained Belt, provide the students with a chance to get some outdoor experience to complement their indoor-classroom studies.
She said she found out about Panola Mountain State Park's programs by researching the park online.
"I was surprised to learn that Panola was so close to us," Belt said. "This is convenient, and has a lot to offer. The kids enjoy it, and it's a good learning experience."
The Frog Slog program, she said, reinforces lessons about life cycles, the aquatic environment and animal habitats.
"They're learning different things, and they will take these experiences back to school in the fall, when they read about them in books," she said.
After an hour of searching, the children had found two small fish, one tadpole and one mayfly larva.
"I learned about the mountain, and the stuff that grows on top of it," said Asia Adams, 14. "You get to experience it, and you get to see it up close."
The group was led by Beth Mutchler, a rising senior at Virginia Tech majoring in natural resource conservation. The program is as enjoyable for her as it is for the children, she said.
"The thing I love about learning outside here, instead of in the classroom, is we don't necessarily learn things for a test, but it makes it come alive in the classroom," Mutchler said. "So when we get back in the classroom, if they're learning about tadpoles here, and then they start learning more about them in the classroom, suddenly they can say 'Wow, I've seen one of those things before.'"
The experiences the students have by catching tadpoles in the wild, Mutchler said, increases their interest in the lessons taught in the classroom.
She said she found Panola Mountain State Park while looking for summer employment between classes, and was glad for a chance to work at the park.
"I fell in love with this place - it has so much to offer," she said.