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20 June 2007

Jacksonville Children Participate in JSU Field Schools' Arts and Nature Program

Brigette Grant, 15, reacts Tuesday to seeing a lizard upclose at a workshop at the Coleman Lake Recreational Area in the Talladega National Forest. Photo: Bill Wilson/The Anniston Star

By Matt Kasper
Star Staff Writer

Reprinted here in its entirety.

Program Teaches Jacksonville Boys and
Girls Club Members about Nature

Any day that a king snake crowns Jordan Mims’ head is a good day.

In fact, the 7-year-old was so impressed with the experience Tuesday at the Coleman Lake Recreational Area in the Talladega National Forest, he told his feelings to Renee Morrison, assistant director of Jacksonville State University’s Environmental Policy and Information Center and Field Schools.

“I told her I want the king snake,” Mims said.

Mims was among 30 children from the Jacksonville Boys & Girls Club who participated in nature-themed activities in the Talladega National Forest.

The two-day nature session introduced some 60 children from the club to various animals and instructed them about fire safety and prevention.

In previous summers, children were transported to Coleman Lake from Hobson City, explained Morrison.

While the program was successful, Morrison said she saw an opportunity last year to extend educational opportunities to children in Jacksonville.

“We realized we were missing people in our own backyard,” she explained.

April Hart, a U.S. Forest Service wildlife biologist, shows equipment that can be used to look into birds' nests. Photo: Bill Wilson/The Anniston Star

This summer, children from the club were able to attend sessions with the help of a $5,000 state grant from the Children’s Regional Environmental Arts Traveling Experience, or CREATE. An arts and nature program run in conjunction with the Jacksonville State University Field Schools and funded by Legacy, Inc., CREATE is a partner of the Alabama Department of Environmental Management.

Since October, Morrison said, she has been talking to children at the club once a week about the environment.

Those lessons came to fruition when a hissing cockroach from Madagascar was passed around.

“Hear it hissing?” She asked the children, whose eyes stretched wide like pizza pans.

An African pygmy hedgehog also seemed to be a hit. Children recoiled after lightly pricking their fingertips.

For Anthony Mims, 11, touching an alligator head was the best part of the experience.

Earlier in the day, 11-year-old Zachary Bennet put out a fire.

Dante Whittaker, engineering equipment operator for the Talladega National Forest Talladega ranger district, suited Bennet up in a yellow fire jacket and he used a hose to extinguish a fire on a patch of grass.

Oxygen, fuel and heat comprise the fire triangle, Whittaker told the children. Eliminate one of those elements, and you will put out the fire.

“A lot of kids don’t get to go out and do a lot of different things,” said Shonika McKinney, unit director of the Boys & Girls Club, as she reflected on the day’s lessons.

McKinney said she has found learning first-hand to be the preferred medium.

“For two girls in the group, it was their first time touching a snake.”

About Matthew Kasper

Matthew Kasper covers Jacksonville, Piedmont, Ohatchee and Alexandria for the Star.

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