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Nature Fest Returns to 'Mr. B's Backyard Classroom' May 23

The Galloway School District continues to educate students about the environment.

commitment to educating its students about the environment continues with the second Nature Fest, scheduled for May 23, from 9 a.m.-2 p.m.

The Nature Fest features stations run by the students in which those attending can play games, win prizes and learn about the local environment.

It will be held at Mr. B’s Backyard Classroom, between and the

Mr. B’s Backyard Classroom is a retention pond between the two schools where students now go to learn about local ecological issues, and both the Nature Fest and Mr. B’s Backyard Classroom were the brainchild of middle school science teacher Debra Sommers, who was an Environmental Science major at the , and has been in the Galloway School District for 24 years.

“I went with a group of teachers and explored the (pond), and we saw a great blue heron in the pond and a hawk in the tree, and we thought this would make a great spot for the kids,” Sommers said.

“Mr. B” was Guy Buckelew, who taught sixth grade at Reeds Road for 14 years. On the school’s website for “Mr. B’s Backyard Classroom,” Buckelew is described as someone who “instilled a sense of environmental awareness to his students,” by “attempting to bring the outdoors in and instructed utilizing these natural elements.”

“We thought this would be a great way to remember him,” Sommers said.

It was made possible by a pair of $1,800 grants from the Ed Foundation and U.S. Fish and Wildlife. They also received some donations from the teachers’ union and Buckelew’s family.

The middle school and the Reeds Road and elementary schools staff members formed collaborative partnerships with each other and with local and state environmental agencies, according to the website. “Mr. B’s Backyard Classroom” was established during the 2010-11 school year, and has been used to take the students on “class trips” to “an aquatic oasis.”

It’s a chance to learn about what species inhabit Galloway, and provides a break from the classroom, as there’s not enough money to send students on regular class trips.

The pond is full of different types of frogs, and students have set up seven bird nesting boxes.

“My pet peeve is that kids learn about African and Asian animals, and they have no idea what’s in their own backyard,” Sommers said. “They need to understand why it’s important to protect our natural resources.”

To that end, there’s a section of the website reserved for students to post about what species of animal they’ve seen in the “classroom.” As of Wednesday, May 9, there were 38 posts, and included animals such as a bald eagle, Canadian geese, a dragonfly, a frog, a hawk, a turtle and a snake.

“The kids are surprised by what’s in there,” Sommers said. “This is exactly why we do this.”

Sommers said they maintain the native species.

“They never introduce anything that isn’t native to the environment,” Sommers said.

In preparation for Nature Fest, each student picks a species to study, and they write about it.

“They research the topics and do lesson plans,” Sommers said. “At Nature Fest, they each have a station. … They teach about everything native to Southern New Jersey.”

Expansion appears to be in the future, as Sommers will become a seventh grade teacher next year, and will be getting that grade level involved. They also received a second grant from the Ed Foundation, worth $2,900. Reeds Road dedicated its old shed to the program. The shed houses microscopes, field guides and other necessary equipment.

There will be an Open House at “Mr. B’s Backyard Classroom,” tonight from 6-8 p.m. Students will give a guided tour.

Next Thursday, May 17, from 8 a.m.-2 p.m., there will be an Open House in which representatives from the Edwin B. Forsythe Wildlife Refuge will be in attendance to teach about birding.

The students love every minute of it.

“The kids love it,” Sommers said. “They never complain about going outside.”

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