APS Foundation supports hands-on STEM education with grant to Natural Resource Education Center

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On four acres on the Central Arizona College campus, lies a very special farm. Each year, nearly 5,000 elementary school students experience interactive field trips to this farm as part of the Farm-Filled AgVentures program, run by the Natural Resource Education Center of Pinal County.

The organization relies entirely upon grant funding, and a recent grant of $5,000 from the APS Foundation will ensure that Pinal County students continue to benefit from this unique STEM education program that lets them get hands-on with science in a farm setting.

“The purpose of NREC is to teach elementary school students about how their food is grown, help them understand the importance of nutrition, and show them the social and economic impact of agriculture in Arizona,” explains Loralee Wuertz, program director of Farm-Filled AgVentures. “We do this by making learning fun! Thanks to this grant from APS, we will be able to cover the costs with the materials used to support the program.”

Wuertz says the learning begins with a half-hour pre-field trip classroom visit from an NREC teacher to the participating Pinal County School. Students get a preview of what to expect on their visit to the farm.

On field trip day, students participate in a morning classroom session, then head outside for an “old-fashioned picnic under the trees,” followed by hands-on afternoon activities that correspond with the theme of that particular field trip.

K-2 students participate in the From Alfalfa to Ice Cream program, learning how cattle can turn their diet of alfalfa, which is inedible to humans, into milk. They then get the opportunity to turn cream into butter and enjoy vanilla ice cream treats.

Students in Grades 1 -3 participate in either an Ag-Ventures Corn Festival, where they grind corn, make Johnny Cakes and make a biodegradable plastic using cornstarch, water and oil; or Veggie Ventures, where they pick radishes, turnips, and carrots to take home and share with their families.

Fourth graders learn about water conservation through the Water Out West program, which covers watersheds, canal systems and ties into Arizona State Standards.

The Five C’s of Arizona– introduces fifth graders to the five Arizona symbols: Copper, Cattle, Citrus, Cotton and Climate—plus a sixth “C” for Conservation. The conservation unit includes a solar station, solar car racing, and a solar oven for s’mores-making.

“Students and teachers all rave about the fun and educational experiences they have out here on the farm,” says Wuertz. “The activities are scientific, hands-on, and a real learning experience.”

The program is available for all Pinal County public elementary schools, including grades 1-5, plus some junior high and special education classes. Schools interested in participating in the Farm-Filled AgVentures field trip program should contact Wuertz at wloralee@hotmail.com.

About The Natural Resource Education Center

The Natural Resource Education Center’s (NREC) mission is to nurture an awareness of natural and renewable resources. NREC teaches conservation techniques so these resources will be available to be used by future generations. The primary focus is on local elementary students. The NREC is located on the campus of the Central Arizona College (CAC) in Coolidge, AZ. The college provides NREC four acres of land with water on which NREC plants crops. The college also provides NREC with a stand-alone classroom building. Children are bused from their schools to the education center. On an average school year, the NREC present 51+ field days at CAC, 36 classroom visits, and 4 community events. They teach nearly 4,400 students and over 470 adults.

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