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Fifth graders learn about Earth in 30th annual festival at Camp Jefferson

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This week roughly 300 fifth grade students from eight different schools traveled to Camp Jefferson in Fairbury to participate in the 30th annual Earth Festival.

Students learned about trees, conservation and wildlife, topography, rivers, the water cycle, pest management and soil through different hands-on activities around the camp. For example, the topography session was split into two different activities: using a projector on a sandbox that would change colors based on the elevation of the sand, and having students use play-doh to create the different elevations on a Nebraska map.

In the water cycle session, students became water molecules and rolled a dice to see what their cycle would be among a plant, animal, river and other states.

The eight schools that participated include Dorchester, Jefferson, Meridian, Paddock Lane, St. Joseph Stoddard, Tri County and Wilber-Clatonia elementary schools.

“This is a program that’s been longstanding in Gage, Jefferson and Saline counties...Most of our activities are aligned with the science and social studies standards for the fifth grade level,” Jacie Milius, a 4-H Youth Development Extension Educator with Gage County, said.

Milius said the festival was created by the Extension Offices in each county, with additional presentations by retired extension educators, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Center in Fairbury, and the Little Blue Natural Resources District.

“Since its beginning, we’ve always partnered with UN-L Extension to provide education here,” Dave Bedlan, resource conservationist for the NRCS, said. “It furthers our mission as an agency, to conserve natural resources. Our little class here is we tell what we do at the Natural Resource Conservation Service, what services we offer, why we feel they’re important and how they benefit all five natural resources: soil, water, air, plants and animals.”

Nicole Stoner, another Gage County Extension Educator, said her session was about how people identify trees, and what best they may find there, to help spark students’ interests about the trees.

“It’s just good to have that basis for helping the environment, so that maybe they’ll plant more trees in the future,” Stoner said.

“I just hope that they learn that Earth and science are cool,” Milius said. “Each session kind of has their own objective, so hopefully they just get a sense of the hands-on learning that comes along with the Earth.”

Stoner said the festival was canceled last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and was originally held near Earth Day in the spring before it was moved due to the often cold weather.

More information about the Nebraska Extension Office and its programs can be found at


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