Teaching today for a bright tomorrow

Every June, select high school students completing their sophomore and junior years from across the Commonwealth, head to the University of Kentucky’s Lake Cumberland 4H Education Center to experience a weeklong adventure exploring Kentucky’s forests, wildlife and bugs.

The Kentucky Forest Leadership Program (KFLP) began over 50 years ago and has greatly evolved during that time. It is all made possible with the cooperation of the U.K. College of Agriculture, the Food and Environment Cooperative Extension Service, the Kentucky Division of Forestry and the Kentucky Division of Conservation.

“The first day of camp participants get introduced to one another, the subject they will be investigating for the week and then they learn the basic tools to gather some of the information for their investigation,” said Laurie Taylor Thomas, KLFP Coordinator and Extension Forester with the U.K. Department of Forestry.

“Consulting firms” made up of students from each track, or area of interest- forestry, wildlife and entomology- and are gently guided by a wide variety of natural resource professionals as they collect data and do investigations throughout the week. At the end of the week the students come back collectively with their firm and share their findings. From there, the students then create a management plan for the 80 acres of mixed forestland they have been assigned. This teaching experience allows the students to learn through peer teaching throughout the week instead of the usual student/teacher experience giving a definite more hands on experience and one many won’t forget.

Reminiscing on their adventures, the campers eyes widen and their voices practically bounce off one another as they finish each other’s sentences, stand up to tell stories and of course, laugh constantly. And though most campers agree that the camp left them with new skills, clearer priorities and enhanced confidence, they certainly did not forget to have fun.

“What could be more fun than learning new facts about trees and insects?” said camper Elijah Schultz who participated in 2016. “The things we learned were incorporated into fun team activities and competitions throughout the week. We did things like a scavenger hunt, Jeopardy-style trivia and a tree-planting race. There was hands-on learning as well. We gathered insects from nearby streams, wetlands, fields, forest and even a cave! And what we gathered, we actually used to make collections. On hikes, we learned to identify trees by actually seeing real specimens rather than just looking at pictures and reading about them in books. At each presentation, there was something interesting to watch or do, from skinning a beaver to even flying a drone.”
But the camp fun wasn’t only limited to the student campers. Forester Chris Oelschlager with the Kentucky Division of Forestry, has been involved with the program since 1997. When she began teaching at the camp, she wasn’t much older than the students and admits to having as much fun, if not more than the campers.

“KFLP is probably my favorite week of the work year, and I look forward to it each summer,” said Oelschlager. “I’m always impressed with how much they learn throughout the intensive, fast paced week. On Monday afternoon we start them with basic tree identification and by Friday morning they are presenting detailed management plans for 80 acres of mixed forestland. Until it ends on Friday, I don’t even think they realize how much they have done throughout the week.”

Read the full article on the Kentucky Energy & Environment Cabinet’s “Land, Air & Water” webzine.

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