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Sunday, March 11, 2012

A Learning Experience at the Ranch

Back from a long two days, we are pleased with our experience at the WHEP contest.  Last night we braved the rains to arrive at our hotel near the contest.  We even had time to have the teams break into their groups to study.

This morning we had hoped we would awaken to a bright sunny day, but instead we had a nice steady rain throughout the morning.  We were happy to learn that the time outside would be limited to a short walk around a field.  We rushed the entire group into my SUV and headed to the site.  It was a little crowded but it was one of the fun times for the group!  This walk gave the team an opportunity to walk the line with the "land owner" who pointed out key features, including problem areas and focal species.  Yes, it was a muddy walk but the 4Hers had fun with it...splashing through the mud puddles and laughing along the way.  Taylor, by far, had the most fun in this endeavor, but he was not alone in his splashing and mucking about!

We still did not know what we were doing, but we headed back to the building to write a wildlife management plan to provide for the American kestrel, Eastern cottontail, White-tailed deer, and Wild turkey to thrive on the property.  We had three teams (1 Senior and 2 Junior) in the contest.  I watched from a distance at their progress.  I could see that it was a struggle to create this plan, but they were not giving up in their attempts.  They were then broken up into individuals (later these scores would be added together for the team score) to show their knowledge of habitat management plans, wildlife identification, and biological facts of species.

Once the contest was over, I spoke to them about the experience.  I think we all agreed that it was not what we were expecting and we had a lot to learn.  These are a few of the things I walked away with from the ranch:

  • Observation skills are very important--everything you see in the field is about details...details...details!
  • Although we do not need to know how to ID plants, we need to know types of plants.
  • Memorizing a chart is great tool for beginners but knowing how the plan comes together is the most important tool we need under our belt.
  • For the team plan, we need each individual to have a mastered skill that can be honed.  When the team comes together each skill can be utilized to the fullest which will help to avoid a gap in the management plan.
  • We know our strengths are gleaned from the Wildlife project.  None of our individuals struggled with the wildlife ID or biological facts parts of the contest.  
  • Vocabulary is the key to getting an answer correct, especially on a multiple choice question.
All of the bullet points are great to help us with the skill set of the project.  However, most important we learned that sometimes the best choice is to jump in and try even if you are not quite ready.  It reminds me of when I first learned to swim.  I had been taught all the skills to swimming.  However, I had not used these skills in the water.  So, my mother said to jump in and she would be there to help me if needed.  OK...I will admit I was a little scared and nervous...afraid of what might happen...concerned about if I failed or did not do everything just right others would laugh at me.  However, I did it!  I jumped in and tried to swim!  I did not have a perfect stroke and even sank to the bottom a little while but I attempted to swim.  And, eventually after practicing in the water, I got better and perfected my strokes.  

Our 4Hers jumped in the deep yesterday and tried something new.  They had all been given the skills (from a crazy leader who knew nothing when we started!) to the best of our ability.  We kind of sank to the bottom (I will admit we placed last all around.), but we learned from the experience.  We grew stronger in our skills and learned some formatting skills as well.  We will be better for the next time!  You have to start somewhere to know where you are going.  And, I like to think that we learned that "to make the best better" sometimes you have to be at the bottom because that means there is only one direction to go from there and that is up!  I am proud of our 4Hers (David, Katy, Sean, Joseph, Zachary, Henry, Caitlin, Taylor and Naomi) once again.

And, I can't end the post without thanking my little troopers (and some bigger ones)!  The younger siblings (Edward, Treavor, Trent and Brendan) made the best of sitting in the car most of the morning due to the rain.  Then found a spot to play games.  Once the rain stopped they ran themselves silly around the ranch and wore themselves out.  Also, the moms (Renee and Robin) who braved the rain and the lead car's sometimes misguided direction to get the 4Hers to the contest and back home safely.  The rain came down hard during the travel time, especially late last night on the way home!  So thankful also to all those who prayed for our safety on the trip.

Finally, a few words of thanks to Larry Hysmith who works so hard for all the participants to have a good experience at the contest.  I have been to a lot of contests over the years and I have NEVER seen a coordinator for an event try so hard to make it a positive learning experience for the 4Hers.  He was always right there to help everyone get back on track and encourage them to do their best.  He is a great example to the 4Hers and their parents to always strive "to make the best better!"  We are looking forward to him coming to teach the group in May along with his dog, Clover.

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