The Boys and Girls Club of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation hosted a National Field Day event on Tuesday, March 14, with the theme, “Soil Scientist in Training.” The event was sponsored by the Kansas Association of Conservation Districts (KACD) and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), an agency of the United States Department of Agriculture. Volunteers from NRCS and KACD led discussions and performed demonstrations at various educational exhibits that were set up outside the Club and in the gymnasium.
Participants were divided into groups and rotated through the stations so that everyone was able to experience each exhibit. The Boys and Girls Club staff managed the group rotations and the event schedule, and some staff participated or assisted at various stations.
Jeffery Olson, Conservation Stewardship Program manager at NRCS, explained how the exhibits functioned and what they could teach the kids about soil conservation.
“In general, we have the stations set up to demonstrate the different ways of looking at natural resources and how we can evaluate them,” Olson said. “We have what we call the ‘sandbox.’ It’s a simulated activity that shows you the grade [of the sand-model landscape] based on a digital format layout. I’ve seen the kids having fun with that, just seeing how much it changes every time you touch it or move it.”
The sandbox simulation was a popular station because of its hands-on interactivity. The participants were able to mold the sand into river valleys, mountains, and even a volcano, which were then brought to life by the simulated visuals projected down onto the sand.
Other indoor exhibits included an inflatable Earth balloon that participants could go inside, an engineering station that demonstrated how to measure grade and slope, and a soil health station, which showed examples of actions people can take to improve the health of soil. At the soil health station, a volunteer explained that the paths of streams and rivers are carved out by erosion and used a map of the PBPN Reservation as an example.
There were several outside exhibits as well. A stream bank trailer showed the effects of water erosion, and a blow-up soil tunnel displayed the layers of soil to demonstrate the important role microbes play in soil health. Another trailer had walls that modeled soil and roots, and participants could press a button to turn on a light trail on the walls that showed how harmful chemicals can travel through the soil and affect plant roots and other organisms.
The NRCS also had an information table with pamphlets and other resources on soil conservation set up in the gym with the indoor exhibits.
The National Field Day event was part of the Boys and Girls Club programming for Spring Break, which provides educational lessons, creative activities, healthy eating, and swimming time for students during the Royal Valley USD 337 schools’ week-long school break.