Robert Frost fifth-grade teacher Nate Van Sickle sat at the front of one of the buses transporting the school’s fifth-graders to Sharon Woods Metro Park Thursday.
As the bus rolled into the pavilion where Metro Park Naturalist Alli Shaw was waiting for them, Van Sickle looked back. All the students were cheering.
“It was hard not to tear up,” he said.
For these fifth-graders, it was their first field trip since the second grade. The state shut down schools in March 2020 because of the pandemic — just before Robert Frost’s planned field trips in the spring. And all field trips were canceled last year to comply with health and safety guidelines.
Thursday’s visit to Sharon Woods Metro Park marked the return of a popular fall field trip for fifth-graders at Robert Frost as well as other Westerville elementaries. Students participated in the Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks’ SEED program — Students Exploring Ecosystem Dynamics — where they explored ecosystems and other topics they’ve been learning in the classroom.
“I’m thrilled that kids have this opportunity,” Van Sickle said. “This is so valuable for them to see the symbiotic relationships. We can talk about all of this in the classroom but when they are out here seeing it first hand — that connection is just so huge for them.”
Van Sickle reached out to the Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks about the SEED program this year and learned that it was still operating but with classroom teachers taking on a larger role by leading some of the activities.
He and fifth-grade teachers, Whitney Magers and Katrina Turner, volunteered to lead activities and support Shaw, the Metro Park naturalist.
Other factors helped make the field trip possible: Instead of using volunteers, school counselor Alisha Porter and student aide Jodi Longwell helped supervise students while at the park. Students and teachers maintained social distancing on the bus and mask guidelines throughout the trip.
As part of the four-hour visit, the fifth-graders rotated among three different activities: a hike with Van Sickle, a nature scavenger hunt and games with Magers and a Critter Science Investigation lesson led by Shaw with Turner offering support, where they discovered the process of identifying animals based on the tracks and other evidence they leave behind.
Throughout the day, they learned how to identify poison ivy, woodpecker holes and deer droppings. They stumbled upon bird boxes, attempted to identify the various sounds in the park and studied the lichen on trees. They learned what controlled burns are and how they help combat invasive plants so animals can thrive from the ecosystem.
“I’ve been to Metro Parks in the past but it wasn’t as cool as this,” said fifth-grader Ethan Dasgupta, who especially enjoyed the scavenger hunt.
Ilhan Mohamed has been to parks with her family but hasn’t explored nature quite like she did on Thursday.
“I’m more aware now,” she said. “If there is anything wrong, I can also share with my family. Now I know what I’m looking at, what it means and whether I should touch it or not.”
She was grateful for the opportunity to spend time learning outside of the classroom.
“We’re really lucky we get a field trip and it’s really special because it’s our first field trip since COVID-19,” she said.