High school students in Mrs. Slater’s Environmental Conservation and Forestry class “ditched” the classroom in favor of a work-based learning project for the Town of Kingsbury. They planted 500 native species on the edges of a ditch, on town property, near the Southern Adirondack Education Center.
The opportunity for this meaningful, real world, hands-on educational experience came through the Washington County Soil and Water Conservation District (a.k.a. the District).
“Every year, Miss Aldrich from the District comes into our class as a guest speaker,” said Mrs. Slater. “She shares best practices with the class, and we’ve formed a rapport with her. When she called us with a project the Town of Kingsbury wanted to do, we were happy to help and learn.”
The Town of Kingsbury needed to prevent erosion, filter water, and prevent salt and other elements from reaching neighboring fields. Working on recommendations from the District, the town purchased the plants, and Miss Aldrich plotted where each would go. When students arrived at the worksite, she taught them about the various attributes of the plants, the clay soil, and the optimal depth and spacing for growth. It took two to three days to install all 500 plants, and the conservation students enjoyed their time in “the ditch.”
“I like learning new things,” said Fort Ann Senior Wes Bell, who is in his second year in Conservation. “I like knowing what’s around me. For instance, that sugar maple drops its leaves earlier than that silver maple,” he said, while gesturing to trees on the campus of the Southern Adirondack Education Center.
Going off campus keeps Bell engaged in what he’s learning. “I love going to school. I know that every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, we’re going out,” he said. “It’s freedom – a real-life experience – but I realize that I have a responsibility to do something with this opportunity and make a difference.”
The plants Bell and his classmates installed will create an ecosystem: “they provide a habitat for insects,” Bell explained. “We knew the native species would excel and thrive in this soil and climate.”
Bell decided to take conservation because his grandfather was a water and soils management person in Unadilla, NY. “He took samples of the river all around that area, and he was part of the National Forest Service.” Bell’s father, who works at Finch Paper, also encouraged him to try conservation.
“There are so many opportunities to express who you are in this program,” Bell said, when talking about all the different facets of conservation. “It’s not just about using chainsaws; we have fish and frogs and turtles and plants.”
“I really enjoyed three different things that all came together in this project,” said Mrs. Slater. “One – community guys from the Town of Kingsbury, two – the Soil and Water District folks, and three – the students learning and performing community service. It was a win-win-win.”
Bell plans to pursue forestry and best management practices and perhaps even start a business. He has already applied to and been accepted at Paul Smith’s College. When he’s not in school, he works as many as three different jobs, which all utilize conservation skills. He provides firewood for his family and several clients; he grows and sells pumpkins; and he works for a farmer after school every day, operating equipment.
The Washington County Water and Soil District was formed in 1945 to provide the necessary information, technical assistance, and equipment to help people with land and water problems that they could not solve alone. The District is a work unit for training future soil conservationists, as designated by the Soil Conservation Service. The District has responded to the needs of Washington County landowners and has improved the agriculture of the County.
For more information about the WSWHE BOCES Environmental Conservation and Forestry program, please click here.
Washington County Soil and Water Technician Robert Kalbfliesh; Washington County Soil and Water Technician Corina Aldrich; Conservation Student Mike Morency; Conservation Student Caleb Cook; Kingsbury Superintendent of Highways Michael Graham.