When Darius Bailey skimmed the pond bottoms at Brick Pond Park with a dip net to see what resides there, a squiggly black worm caught his attention and he immediately remembered seeing it on cable TV's Animal Planet channel.
"I caught two," the 11-year-old said of the leeches.
Darius and his North Augusta Elementary School classmates quickly learned the park offered more than a walking trail and a home for alligators. Fifth-graders' recent field trip to the park was part of a pilot program with the city's stormwater department.
A grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation specified among other things that construction of the Brick Pond Park would turn the ponds into a learning facility, said Tanya Strickland, an environmental coordinator with the stormwater department. North Augusta Elementary was chosen to be the pilot school for doing experiments at the park because it is within walking distance, she said.
Pupils were divided into groups -- some watched birds or identified plants, while others read oxygen levels in the water or used microscopes to look at organisms.
"I saw a big fur-ball thing," shouted Bentley Brown, 10, after observing algae under a microscope.
Classmate Kaitlyn Ellefson, 10, caught a minnow in her specimen cup.
"I didn't really know there was that much in there," Kaitlyn said of the microorganisms she found. "They help other animals. Fish eat the organisms on algae. I just thought they were just there for no reason."
North Augusta Elementary completed its first outdoor classroom program at the ponds in April.
The class was originally scheduled for three days but was condensed to a one-day field trip because of a few minor kinks that have since been corrected, Mrs. Strickland said.
"The goal is to expand out to other elementary schools," said fifth-grade teacher Nathan Lobaugh.
Mr. Lobaugh said the outdoor classroom meets standards by teaching about the ecosystem, earth science, matter, math and language arts.
Pupils complete reports about the activities and present their group findings to the class. Though pupils do not perform each activity, they learn about the other experiments from their classmates' presentations.
Once the program is established, Mr. Lobaugh said the idea is to let middle school pupils and younger elementary grades participate.
Mrs. Strickland said the program will be expanded to other North Augusta schools this school year, and then to Aiken County and other interested schools the next year.
Reach Crystal Garcia at (706) 823-3409 or email@example.com.
To learn about educational programs available at the Brick Pond Park in North Augusta, call Tanya Strickland, an environmental coordinator with the stormwater department, at (803) 441-4246.