Catching more than insects, aquatic critters

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Kensey Ball carefully cradles a snail she discovered at the Driftless Area Science after school program at the Driftless Area Wetlands Centre last week. The program will run for eight weeks, connecting kids with the unique biology, ecology and geology of the Driftless Area. (Photos by Audrey Posten)

Wetlands Centre employee Jan Stavroplus explores the prairie plantings with some of the after school program participants.

Mason Hollar (left) and Oliver Ludvik build habitat for the critters who live in and near the Wetlands Centre prairie. Many of the activities, said Wetlands Centre Director Alicia Mullarkey, will touch on what kids are learning in the classroom: “They can see real-world examples and do more self-guided exploration.”

Sixty-five MFL MarMac students in kindergarten through third grade are signed up for the Tuesday program, while 25 fourth through sixth graders will participate on Thursdays.

“Here,” said Mullarkey, “they are naturalists in training. We’ll key in on the tools naturalists use and the skills they need to build on: observing, inquiring, asking questions.”

Some days will simply be unstructured play, based around what the students discover, what they find most exciting.

After school program helps kids catch moments in nature

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times

The Driftless Area Wetlands Centre, in Marquette, will be a hub of nature discovery every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon over the next two months, for the Driftless Area Science after school program. 

Sixty-five MFL MarMac students in kindergarten through third grade are signed up for the Tuesday program, while 25 fourth through sixth graders will participate on Thursdays. 

“We’re excited that the kids are excited to get out here,” said Wetlands Centre Director Alicia Mullarkey. “With that many kids at once, they really feed off each other.” 

Mullarkey said the Wetlands Centre has long sought a way to get kids outside after the school day. Like the McGregor-Marquette Center for the Arts’ winter after school program, this will give students another learning opportunity, but at a different time of the year. 

Driftless Area Science will also increase the Wetlands Centre’s relationship with MFL MarMac, which contributed toward construction of the facility. Many of the students have already visited on school field trips, Mullarkey noted. They’ve learned about the activities the Wetlands Centre offers, and this will only build on that. 

“This is a natural next step for us. It’s a perfect spot for kids. We’ve got a nice wetland, and they’re able to explore and touch on what they talk about in the classroom. It adds to science education and gets kids outside, connecting with nature,” she said. “They can see real-world examples and do more self-guided exploration. We can tailor activities to what their interests are.” 

Driftless Area Science officially kicked off last week and will run for eight weeks. Mullarkey said the program will help kids connect with where they live by studying the unique biology, ecology and geology of the Driftless Area. 

Activities will be held largely outside and highlight topics like food webs and watersheds—where water goes and how it can be controlled. Students will catch insects and aquatic creatures, learning more about the species that live in the wetland and prairie. They’ll look at plants and soil. 

“Here,” said Mullarkey, “they are naturalists in training. We’ll key in on the tools naturalists use and the skills they need to build on: observing, inquiring, asking questions.” 

Some days will simply be unstructured play, based around what the students discover, what they find most exciting. 

“It’s a very engaging environment. They find things for us to look at,” Mullarkey shared. “It’s intriguing. Half of it, I haven’t even seen.” 

“Maybe we don’t know the answer,” when the kids have questions, she said, “but that’s the wonder in it.” 

All of the kids will receive journals, allowing them to document their discoveries and the changing seasons. When they visit with their families or on field trips, they don’t always notice those details, Mullarkey noted. 

“Coming every week, they’ll see the changes. If they come next year, they can see if things have changed,” she said. “Having nature nearby and having continual access to it, that’s key to development.” 

Mullarkey said her biggest hope is that kids are able to connect with the area where they live, that they take skills they learn at the Wetlands Centre and utilize them in their own neighborhoods or backyards—in their lives as they get older. 

“We live in such an amazing place. I want them to always look back and have an interest in and a sense of wonder about the natural world,” she said. “If you slow down and look closer, it opens up a whole new world. Hopefully, we’ll catch a lot of moments out here.” 

Mullarkey is appreciative of the people who helped make Driftless Area Science happen, including the MFL MarMac School District, which is providing bussing to and from the program. The Wetlands Centre’s friends group, Friends of the Marquette Driftless Area, received a $1,000 grant through the Clayton County Foundation for the Future, which went toward purchasing supplies. Volunteers have also given their time and support. More volunteers are always welcome, whether it’s for one day or the whole length of the program. 

“It’s a lot of fun,” she commented. “You get so much out of working with the kids.” 

Interested individuals can contact Mullarkey at driftlessareawetlandcentreia@gmail.com or (563) 873-3537.

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