Environmental education course gets kids out of the classroom [photos]

Ivy Academy students Shuichiro Yamaski, Chulawan Yimsbun and Trudie Murphy ride their bikes along the Tennessee Riverpark during a field trip Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2018 in Chattanooga, Tenn. The group stopped at several points along the path to fill out guided worksheets and talk about the history and environment along the river.

About a dozen Ivy Academy students gazed across a thriving ecosystem in a shallow marsh near a pull-off on the Tennessee Riverwalk. The students were asked to describe what they were experiencing as a looming Lookout Mountain shaped the background.

The students were part of the school's marine science class taught by Jim Watson, and they were conducting a field study of the Tennessee Riverwalk, learning about the history of the area and its role in the community while riding bikes provided by Outdoor Chattanooga on the trail.

"Kids will forget what they did in class today and yesterday," Watson said, "but they're not going to forget this."

Watson has led these field studies his entire career. He's semi-retired now, he said, but still teaches the class. He's worked as an educator in Soddy-Daisy, Hixson and other area schools.

Watson is not a proponent of standardized testing, preferring to teach subjects where he can create dialogue and have his students experience what they're learning.

The students were thankful for that, at least on the chilly Wednesday morning along the Tennessee River.

"Yes," junior Lizbeth Flores admitted, she did like the trip better than sitting in class; even if it meant wearing an uncomfortable helmet she would rather have discarded.

Flores is from Ecuador and was one of three exchange students on the field trip.

"These were things I didn't know," she said. "It makes me think we need to be more conscious about the environment. We live here in the environment, and we need to take care of it. We have so many things to do, but mainly we just stay at home."

The students learned the meaning of Chickamauga - dwelling of the chief - and had to answer questions about why there are numbers on the supports of the C.B. Robinson Bridge - so barge traffic knows the amount of clearance there is under the bridge - and figure out why the marsh they looked at was important, even if it didn't provide swimming, farming or development opportunities.

They learned the marsh was one of the most bio- diverse places in the area. It provides cover, food and a home for many of the region's critters.

The trip featured students in ninth through 12th grade. Many were assigned to be in the class, but it's one several were excited to take.

"I was put in [the class], but I'm glad that I was," freshman Zoe Dayhuff said. " I didn't know most of what we learned today. I like learning about this. I feel like I learn more when I'm out and being active. I take it in better."

Contact staff writer Mark Pace at mpace@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6361. Follow him on Twitter @themarkpace and on Facebook @ChattanoogaOutdoors.