GRAFENWOEHR, Germany – Two classes of fourth grade students met up with representatives from the U.S. Army Garrison Bavaria Environmental Division at Wild B.O.A.R. Outdoor Recreation for a day of hands-on learning about the environment of the Grafenwoehr Training Area.


“We went on a nature walk [where] we saw underwater mushrooms; we saw big mushrooms; [and] we saw big anthills,” said Luke, a fourth grade student in the Jedi Leadership Academy at Grafenwoehr Elementary School (GES). “After that we went on to learn a lot about beavers. We felt a [beaver] pelt. We learned about their adaptations, and we learned how they use their hands to scrape up mud and stay underwater. We learned how they build their dams.”


Luke also learned about the existence of the red deer that call the Grafenwoehr Training Area their home — a species completely new to the young student.


“I learned that they have antlers, except for the does, and they’re red and one of their adaptations is a type of fur that keeps them warm,” he said.


The field trip was broken into two experiences. The first experience led the children along an established trail at the W.I.L.D Boar. They were able to see, among other sights, the remains of trees that beavers had gnawed down, ant hills that reach several feet above ground and a variety of mushrooms native to the Grafenwoehr area.


The second experience gave the children an interactive lecture on the species of beaver that make their homes in the Grafenwoehr area – complete with a beaver pelt, tail and skull to touch and ask questions about. The lecture was followed by another interactive lesson on the importance of food webs.


The field trip was specifically designed as a compliment to the fourth graders’ first quarter curriculum, according to Dr. Bill Hunter, a fourth grader teacher at GES and head of the Jedi Leadership Academy. The fourth graders studied the different biomes within the environment, studied food chains and food webs and built their own terrariums, before culminating their studies with the field trip to W.I.L.D. Boar.


“We know that you can only learn so much in a classroom,” said Hunter. “With this field trip, we are able to take them out into the larger world and make that part of the classroom. We can look and see a tree that a beaver has gnawed through, or we can see the mushrooms and we can see the veins in the mushrooms. You can look at those things in a textbook, but it doesn’t have the same impact. And it doesn’t really stick in the brain and fulfill our learning objectives the way that is does when we go outside. So anytime you get to do a hands-on activity it is much, much better than trying to learn sitting at a desk and looking at a textbook.”


Megan McKnight led the effort from the Environmental Division, where she is the environmental education and outreach specialist.

Megan McKnight, the environmental education and outreach specialist at the U.S. Army Garrison Bavaria’s Environmental Division, leads an exercise for a group of fourth-grade students to understand the intricacies and importance of food webs. The learning activity was designed to specifically complement the students’ in-classroom study about the environment. (Photo by Daniela Vestal)


McKnight said she works to provide educational activities to all members of the community, as well as any school-age group ranging from schools in the community to Sure Start and home school groups.


“I love when kids get excited about the environment,” McKnight said. “I am excited about the environment, and I like seeing the younger generation feel that way as well.”


More information about the Environmental Division and their public events can be found on their facebook page at USAG Bavaria – Environmental Division.