700 students learn at Earth Day outdoor classroom event

First-grader Angelica Pacheco reaches out to touch a bullfrog.

First-grader Angelica Pacheco reaches out to touch a bullfrog.

By Steve Hansen

QCS Managing Editor

Whether it was by touching toads, trying on wind turbine climbing gear or getting a quick solar-powered shower, about 700 school children from three counties observed Earth Day on April 16 with learning by sight, sound and touch at Tucumcari’s Outdoor Classroom.

The federal Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Tucumcari office and the Canadian River Soil and Water Conservation District sponsored the day of outdoor learning, and the weather cooperated, sunny and warm–about 80 degrees.

Students sat cross-legged on the ground or on the concrete steps of kivas, miniature amphitheaters dug into banks, to watch presentations on reptiles and amphibians, animal diseases and handwashing, solar electricity, wind energy, geographic positioning systems, dinosaurs, wildlife pelts and skulls, erosion, farrier science, and to take a look inside eastern New Mexico’s bookmobile, based in Tucumcari.

Participating agencies included The Nature Conservancy, the New Mexico State land Office, Quay County Extension Service, Energy Related Devices, Mesalands Community College, the NRCS, New Mexico Game and Fish, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the New Mexico State Library and Rural Bookmobile East.

Morning events involved kindergarten through third graders who responded spontaneously to what they were learning. Wildlife biologist Robert Martin pulled reptiles and amphibians out of a cooler, talked about them, then carried them around so the less squeamish could touch them.

When he pulled out an big bullfrog, there was a loud “E-w-w-w.”

Bob Hockaday, a scientist who lives in the Tucumcari area, had the kids point mirrors at a solar panel to make it change color, then had the kids drape themselves over an active solar cell so they could see how blocking the light stopped a pump from operating. Then he’d have the kids block the light again while he installed a pipe that pointed 10 feet in the air. When the kids backed away from the solar cell, they got sprayed, which their shouts showed they enjoyed.

Tom Allard and Terril Stowe of the North American Wind Research and Training Center, Mesalands Community College, explained wind energy to the students, then had them try on wind energy technician’s climbing gear.

Pointing to the center’s 200-foot-tall wind turbine nearby they asked, “Are you ready to climb it?” Responses were 50-50, yes and no.

The children came from Tucumcari, Logan, San Jon, House, Grady, Mosquero and Fort Sumner for the day-long event.Hundreds of students, teachers and volunteers from Quay and surrounding counties take part in this annual event that gives students a first-hand look in the world of natural science. This is the 12th year that the Earth Day event was held at the Tucumcari Outdoor Classroom.

The 5.5-acre Outdoor Classroom was constructed 15 years ago, converting property that was considered an eyesore into landscaped educational resource, according to a NRCS news release.

Local citizens propsosed the idea to the NRCS office in Tucumcari. NRCS personnel then with planning members and conducted a natural resource inventory at the site. The City of Tucumcari then obtained a Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP) contract to construct the outdoor classroom.

The project was built with help from the El Llano Estacado Resource Conservation and Development Council; Canadian River Soil and Water Conservation District; Altrusa International of Tucumcari; Mesalands Community College; Arch Hurley Conservancy District; City of Tucumcari; Tucumcari Tree Board; Quay County government; Tucumcari Agricultural Science Center; NRCS Los Lunas Plant Materials Center and the Teacher Steering Committee at Tucumcari Elementary School.

Donations from area businesses and organizations were also instrumental in the Outdoor Classroom’s success, including Comcast Cable Communications, Le Deane Studio, Shipley Systems, Tucumcari Rotary Club, Quality Lube and Tire, Versatile Construction, Tucumcari Elks Lodge, Quay County Sun, Curtis and Curtis Seed Company, Altrusa International of Tucumcari, Mother Road Rally, Daughters of the American Revolution, Tumbleweed 4-H, Engineers, Inc., and Custom Design and Supply.

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