By Sarah Stuart
Ten years ago, then Weiser teacher Brenda Lukehart-Mattson was informed that due to the down turn in the economy at that time, there wasn’t the budget for the traditional field trips Weiser school children had enjoyed in previous years. At that time, Lukehart-Mattson had recently begun her teaching career. While she was looking forward to educating her nieces in the following years, she also wanted to share the exciting experience of a field trip with them. She approached her mother, Vicki Lukehart, hoping between the two of them, they could brainstorm a solution.
The Weiser River Soil Conservation District (WRSCD), the agency where Vicki Lukehart is employed, hosts a local sixth grade educational field trip annually and Lukehart believed WRSCD could do something similar for Weiser first graders. This would be a great way to introduce practical applications for conservation to students. She was convinced that if the Weiser community could pull together, a local field trip could be successful. That is exactly what happened.
Lukehart began by contacting the Forest Service. They agreed to get involved since they were already going into classrooms during the first grade year in order to teach children about fire safety. The teachers were the next to get on board. First grade teacher Patti Hartnett took the lead on working with Lukehart to coordinate maps, agendas, etc needed for the event. Lukehart also had to coordinate with the City of Weiser in order to reserve almost all of Memorial Park for the event. According to Lukehart, “The City of Weiser has always been fantastic” in regards to working with them to make the field trip happen.
The field trip has numerous different stations throughout the park. The Forest Service has two stations. One teaches about fire safety and the other station is a puppet show regarding fire awareness. The first grade teachers present a station called Project Wild which touches on practical conservation. Lukehart’s station is a farmers’ market. At the farmers’ market, children are introduced to the process of how produce goes from growing in the field to being sold in stores. The Weiser High School FFA comes out every year with a station introducing the kids to farm animals. Children are able to ride a horse as well as have a hands on experience with chicks, rabbits, sheep, and calves. WRSCD's second station, put on by presenter Sharona Olsen, consists of recently collected stream water which the children use to identify the different insects that are found in local waters.
Weiser students come into contact with WRSCD next during their sixth grade year. The field trip is located at Mann Creek Reservoir. The Mann Creek Reservoir area is ideal because it is a contained circular location. This field trip also has stations set up to teach students about practical applications for conservation. These stations cover areas such as water, soil, insects, wildlife, and fire safety. Seven local and state agencies get involved with this field trip every year.
WRSCD's involvement with Weiser students doesn’t stop there. They also work with high school students who attend the Idaho Envirothon. The Envirothon is a highly competitive competition in which students problem solve environmental issues in a hands on setting. It is held in Challis, ID every year and the winning team advances to the North American Envirothon.
While Lukehart is semi-retired, she has no plans to stop organizing the first grade field trip even though she feels it might be time to pass the responsibility of the farmers’ market onto someone else. One of the best parts of this whole event, according to Lukehart, is that it is local people working with local kids. “If you see a need, take the time to talk to a teacher or talk to someone in your community,” expressed Lukehart. “A simple conversation between my daughter being a teacher, and myself created this whole thing.”