CLAYTON — It was no regular day in the classroom.
Last week, Clayton High students taught middle schoolers from Riverwood Middle about the outdoors on a field day at the 65-acre Grifols Nature Center.
Sixth-graders spent 30 minutes at each of five stations and learned from Clayton High volunteers who are in Future Farmers of America. They learned about soil, aquatics, wildlife, forestry and GPS systems.
Kay Noechterlein, a sixth-grade teacher, brought her students to learn outdoors what they’d been learning in the classroom.
“We just finished talking about soil and erosion,” said Noechterlein. “Seeing pictures of things isn’t the same as coming out and seeing it firsthand.”
Grifols, the largest company in Clayton, is more commonly known for its blood plasma facility. But, the company bought 65 acres off Powhatan Road near the Grifols factory to use for educational purposes.
David Auge, a representative from Grifols, said the company values private ownership of land when it can be preserved, and used to teach students. Auge said much land that belongs to big companies in the state is used as a dump, and it’s neglected. That was the case with the nature space the students visited last week before Grifols took over.
“We found an entire Amoco gas station, and an old bed out here,” said Auge. With the help of Grifols volunteers, and N.C. State students, the space has been transformed into a walking and learning area. While local classrooms can come out and host a field day on the site, Grifols employees take advantage of the trails for running.
The field day, organized by Clayton High teacher Johanna Wood, along with Grifols employee Susan Woodard, was entirely student-led. There were professionals on-site to help out, including representatives from the Johnston County Health Department, Forest Services, Neuse River Foundation, and Geographic Information Services. But, the students did most of the talking. “They were responsible for planning and conducting their lesson,” said Wood. “It was a leadership activity for them.” She said the best way to familiarize yourself with something is to learn it so well you can teach others.
The Clayton High chapter of the FFA taught the Riverwood students with hands-on experiments at five stations.
At the GPS systems station, students learned how to use GPS to track different sets of hooves and claws that were place in the wooded trail area. At the soil station, students used equipment to measure levels of pH, potassium, and phosphorous in the soil. The students looked at a soil monolith, which shows soil from the very top of the ground down to deep levels in the ground, and learned that the brighter color of soil, from deeper depths, was better for draining water and draining bacteria to clean water.
At the aquatics station, a favorite of many students, students learned how to measure pH, and about the effect of sediment, or dirt, on a river.
Sixth-grader Alissia Macon said her favorite station was the aquatics station because she got to see a salamander. She learned that the state has more salamanders than anywhere else in the world.
At the forestry station, students measured the height of trees, and the diameter of a tree trunk.
Ashton Crabtree, a senior at Clayton High, is the vice president of the school’s FFA chapter and taught at the aquatics station. She said she liked being able to teach younger students about something that was so fascinating to her.
The field day was made possible by a grant that Clayton High received from the NC Tobacoo Trust Fund Commission. Wood submitted an application for a grant last year, and the school was awarded $4,946 as part of the NC Agricultural Education Improvement Grant.
That money was used to purchase materials that focused on natural resource education, including equipment to measure trees, GPS systems and lab tools for testing pH, among other tools.
Wood wanted to get the students more hands-on experience using the new tools so she thought of creating a field day where they would teach younger students, and hone leadership skills at the same time.
Grifols provided the site as well as food for the students for the day. Auge, the Grifols representative, said the company plans to build a permanent structure at the nature site where they can fit 100 students and host field days more often.
The Grifols wildlife site was built by N.C. State students and Grifols volunteers and can be used by local schools. One N.C. State student designed all of the trails, and one put in all of the markers.