I live across the road from a pine tree farm cultivated from the late ‘80s to what is now a Mecca for forestry and wildlife management. Although I don’t know much of anything about prescribed burns and attracting turkeys, I know there’s 200 acres’ worth of learning opportunities up there.

For years, garden club members from neighboring counties, national TV show crews, Mississippi State University forestry students and landowners have flocked up there to learn about everything from wildflowers to pricing pines to pond management, and I’ve tailed several of them for a story or photo op.

Most recently, I talked to a few teachers from throughout Mississippi about the things they learned not just at the farm but through a conservation-based program held every summer for continuing education credit.

The program teaches teachers several aspects linked to careers in forestry and water conservation as a couple of examples.

Not all the teachers who participate are high school agriculture or science teachers who may nudge a junior or senior towards that career path. They represent several different courses and grade levels.

In talking to an elementary teacher from Marietta, I told her my fourth-grade teacher spray painted rocks gold and hid them throughout the playground when we were studying the California gold rush. Getting to hunt like one of the ‘49ers with my friends was a lesson I’ll fondly remember for the rest of my life.

A few months later, we took the best field trip ever to Jackson, which included a trip to the Mississippi Museum of Agriculture. Years later, I remember scouring an area all the kids in our neighborhood called Farmer’s Field for my ninth-grade insect report.

There are books and lectures in the classroom that can fill minds with plenty of knowledge, but there’s a great big world outside of the school buildings offering plenty more.

The recent conservation program opened teachers’ eyes to the lessons places such as north Mississippi forests, Tishomingo State Park and Pickwick Lake can teach. Even as adults, it’s easy to get sucked in to lessons Mother Nature is trying to teach us.

For years, the Monroe County Soil and Water Conservation District has coordinated a multi-agency field day for students to learn about boating safety, animal skins and forestry, among a number of topics. An elementary student won’t forget a day away from the classroom like that.

Warm sunshine, fresh air and time away from school may seem like an easy out from school work, but those kind of days teach them lessons on a level textbooks can’t. The kicker is many students don’t even realize they’re learning. At least that’s how I recall trips to the zoo in the sixth grade.

Outside of school days in elementary school and junior high, I spent as much time as I could playing in the woods and in fields, riding bikes and blazing trails. There’s a thin line between having fun, being physically active and learning lessons when it comes to the outdoors.

I know times have changed from my school days forever ago, and it’s not quite as easy to get outside, but to the teachers and administrators, please don’t overlook the great opportunities right here in our backyards.

Hamilton is flanked by cotton fields, Aberdeen has acres to explore at Blue Bluff, Amory’s Northeast Mississippi Nature Trail should go without saying, there’s surely a world to explore up in Nettleton Club Land, Smithville is on the shoreline of the waterway too, and Hatley has some of the county’s prettiest landscapes heading east to Splunge.

This county’s terrain is far more outdoorsy than it is urban, so let’s embrace it with all the learning lessons it offers.

To the local teachers, please consider taking advantage of the conservation class next summer. As the complimenting story stated, the Mississippi Forestry Association usually publishes the agenda for each year on its website in February or March. Any educators interested in participating may also call the association at (601) 354-4936.

Not only may it change a student’s way of thought, it could change yours too.

Ray Van Dusen is the managing editor of the Monroe Journal. He can be reached at ray.vandusen@journalinc.com.

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