COEUR d’ALENE — Constant rain Tuesday could not keep Fernan STEM Academy first-graders away from the lake to get a firsthand look at what they’ve been learning about in the classroom.
“It’s exactly what we want to see from our students, them feeling like they can make a difference in the world,” said Melinda Henning, one of the first-grade teachers at Fernan, during a field trip to Fernan Lake.
Throughout the year, Henning said first-graders at Fernan STEM Academy have had Fernan Lake as a backdrop to in-class lessons on a diverse group of subjects. On Tuesday morning, thanks to a partnership with the Kootenai Environmental Alliance, three first-grade classes got to go to the lake, which was turned into an outdoor classroom.
“This is our first time working with younger kids, and we’re finding the reception to be very impressive,” said Dennis Brueggemann, a board member. “They’re very interested in what’s going on at the lake.”
As part of their studies, the first-graders discussed the importance of protecting our lakes and rivers so everyone can enjoy clean water. In addition, they learned healthy lakes and rivers are dependent upon having healthy shorelines — covered with native grasses, bushes and trees that help prevent polluted sediments from entering the water.
Three stations were set up on the shore of Fernan Lake, each of them dealing with an aspect of what the students learned throughout the year. At one station, Brueggemann gave students a close-up look at how beavers help improve water quality.
“Why do beavers have such large teeth?” Brueggemann asked the group of students.
“So they can chomp the wood,” multiple first-graders responded enthusiastically.
After viewing a beaver dam on the lake, the students were given a hands-on look at how the dams are constructed. Using leaves, mud and sticks, the first-graders created a dam of their own.
“It’s not a perfect- looking place,” said Brueggemann upon examining the work of the first-grade students. “But that’s exactly what a beaver would do.”
There were also stations examining water bugs and how shoreline planting prevents erosion.
Sharon Bosley, interim director of KEA, told The Press one of the core tenets of the organization is educating the public on the health of local waterways and lakes.
“Kids are a key aspect of that,” Bosely said. “We teach the kids what’s healthy for the lake, and then they go back and talk to their parents about what they learned. We want to empower them so they know they can make a difference — Fernan is their lake.”