NEWS

Pedals, petals and planet Earth part of lesson plan

Jewels Phraner

The echoes of 825 third-graders' squeals of delight bounced off the walls of the Peoria Civic Center on Wednesday as they spent a four-hour day learning about their planet.

Earth Day is Everyday 2008 brought a rotation of interactive booths, performances and exhibits to students from Peoria, Tazewell and Woodford counties. In one room, students made biodegradable plastic from corn products. At another exhibit, students pedaled a bike to see whether an incandescent light bulb or a compact fluorescent light bulb needed more power. The compact fluorescent bulb needed only about 20 percent of the power that the incandescent bulb did.

A group of Willow Primary School third-graders echoed an "Eww!" in unison when Luthy Botanical Gardens education and volunteer coordinator Jill Dorbeck pointed out the slugs in her compost bucket.

Their teacher, Michael Ritchason, said his students would spend the next few days discussing what they learned Wednesday. This is the second year Ritchason has signed his class up for the field trip.

"We take the (event) and try to extend it. They'll write some reports about the different things they learn," he said.

Dorbeck said 8- and 9-year-olds are at a great age to begin learning about how to help the environment.

"They're very curious," she said. "They're still interested in learning."

Dorbeck created a compost bucket in a clear container. She used soil, vegetables, fruit, paper products and slugs to show students what could be used in their own compost buckets.

Each student also watched a performance of Minnesota-based Climb Theatre's "Trash!" and viewed exhibits from several other conservation groups including the Peoria County Farm Bureau, Forest Park Nature Center and Wildlife Prairie State Park.

In its third year, Peoria County Recycling and Resource Conservation hopes to make the event an annual celebration for 800 to 1000 Tri-County third-graders.

This year, event organizers were able to expand, allowing 200 more students than in years past.

"It's as big as we could make it in the space we could afford," said Becca Cottrell, the recycling educator for Peoria County.

Ritchason said his students get a lot out of the day outside the classroom.

"It's kind of amazing to see what they already know to do at home, but they do really take to learning more," he said.

"Most kids have a good understanding that we need to be good to the environment, but they don't know how to do it," Cottrell added. "Earth Day lets them see how they can help out their planet."

Jewels Phraner can be reached at (309) 686-3196 orjphraner@pjstar.com.