Nature's Classroom BonHam Academy sixth graders visit Selah, Bamberger Ranch Preserve, for An outdoor adventure

Every spring for the past 12 years, students from Bonham Academy head out to the Texas Hill Country to visit Selah, Bamberger Ranch Preserve, a 5,500-acre ranch in Blanco County that has been restored to its original habitat.

The goal of the field studies camp is to reinforce lessons taught in the classroom, giving students hands-on, real-life experiences with scientific concepts. The agenda varies year-to-year and is accommodated to specific topics the teachers feel would best help the students prepare for the STAAR test, which they will take as eighth graders. For instance, if more emphasis is necessary on the Earth Sciences, rather than the Life Sciences, the Bamberger Ranch staff can incorporate more into the agenda.

This year, almost the entire sixth-grade class attended the three-day, two-night field trip. The boys arrived Monday morning and stayed through Wednesday morning, and the girls arrived Wednesday afternoon, staying through midday Friday.

The boys were required to turn over their cell phones for the majority of the trip so that they could focus on the outdoor learning experience. The students were responsible for cleaning “The Center” which was built to accommodate organized groups of all ages interested in education about nature, conservation and the environment. It has two dormitory-style sleeping rooms, each accommodating approximately 24 people in double bunks.

After breakfast on Wednesday morning, the boys and their chaperons headed out on the Bluebonnet, a covered trailer pulled by a pickup truck that transported the students around the ranch during their stay.

At the first stop of the day, students learned about dinosaurs that inhabited the Bamberger Ranch area millions of years ago. Students had the chance to examine and step inside of Cretaceous Period dinosaur tracks located on the site.
Next, the students searched for fossils on a nearby hillside.
Each student was allowed to bring five specimens home with them as a remembrance of their time at Bamberger.
Jason Siptak, 7th and 8th grade science teacher at Bonham, has been leading the boys' leg of the trip for the past five years.
"We feel really fortunate that we get to do this every year with the help of our PTA," said Siptak. "Nothing beats doing the real thing, going out and seeing and experiencing a place like this. There is no trash, there are no automobile sounds. It's a really good opportunity that a lot of kids don't normally get. If they see this now when they are impressionable, and learn about conservation, I think an experience like this will impact them for the rest of their lives."

Next, the group had lessons on some of the wildlife who live on the ranch, including Mexican Freetail Bats and a herd of endangered species of African antelope, the Scimitar Horned Oryx.

After every lesson in the field, which are taught by Bamberger Ranch staff and volunteers, students take notes in their field journals. Lessons include why conservation is important, bio-indicator studies, astronomy, birds, aquifer recharge, dichotomous keys to identify species, plate tectonics, geological time scale, fossils, dinosaurs, extinction, species interaction, and ecological succession.
Monico Vitela, an art teacher at Bonham, has chaperoned the trip for the past three years.
"At the end of the day, we all have a really great bonding experience," Vitela said. "One of the things that we do is drawing from observation. So, the students have the opportunity to draw from real life specimens they captured from the water or fields. We take them to the Learning Center and they draw what they see, what they caught."

Upon returning to The Center, the boys had lunch and packed up, waiting the arrival of the girls with whom they would switch places.

With the boys on the bus and headed back to Bonham, it was the girls' turn to begin their Bamberger adventure.

After claiming their bunks and eating their packed lunches at The Center, the girls head down to Madrone Lake.

The girls are taught by Steven Fulton, ranch manager, a lesson on the difference various terrains and landscapes make on water drainage when it rains.

After the water runoff lesson, the girls continued their day with a variety of other activities around the Ranch. Bamberger Ranch's mission is to teach ethical land stewardship — by example and outreach. The ranch staff not only provide hands-on science classes and nature camps for school children, but also offer seminars for landowners and serve as a research lab for botanists, zoologists, and other scientists.

Thanks to the Bonham chaperons who were not mentioned in the above presentation: Araceli Manriquez, Nathan Busse, Belinda Rodriguez and Alejandra Avenia. A special thanks to the camp facilitators at Bamberger to made this trip possible: Colleen Gardner, Steven Fulton and Jared Holmes. and a very special thanks to J. David Bamberger, who purchased the land as a dilapidated overgrazed tract in 1969 and has been rehabilitating it ever since.


Deborah Silliman/SAISD

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