15:39 PM

Community Impact: Elachee Nature Science Center

In nature, there are countless lessons for students to learn.

But in an age when students are more plugged in to technology than the great outdoors, getting hands-on learning in nature is becoming more challenging.

“We get quite a few students who have never been in nature,” said Jan­ice Jones, school program registrar at Elachee Nature Science Center, Gainesville.

Nestled in the Chicopee Woods Nature Preserve in Hall County, the Elachee Nature Science Center has long been providing a recreational and educational destination for visitors wanting to connect with nature. The 1,440-acre preserve includes 12 miles of hiking trails, gardens, ani­mal exhibits and exhibit halls.

To get students to enjoy and learn from nature, Elachee offers STEAM-based (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathemat­ics) programs and field trips, all of which follow Georgia’s curriculum.

“A third grade class that’s learning about geology in their classroom can come here and continue their lessons,” Jones said.

Educators can select from a range of field trips, such as those about as­tronomy, plants, animals, aquatic studies and habitats. Elachee also has a partnership with Chattahooche Riverkeeper and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to offer a floating classroom onboard a boat on Lake Lanier. There, students sample plankton, collect lake sediments and more.

“It’s hands-on and students are very excited,” said Peter Gordon, Elachee’s director of education.

For those students who may have little experience in nature, Elachee’s staff make students feel comfortable and encourage them to have fun learning, Jones said. Kids are invited to explore the environment and try something new.

Before they arrive, Elachee provides educators with materials to prepare students for their visit, such as spe­cial activities and vocabulary words students may discuss while on their trip.

During the 2016-2017 academic year, 23,381 students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade in Jackson EMC’s service area participated in Elachee’s school programming. But for some schools, getting the funds for such field trips may be challenging.

To help qualified schools offset a portion of the field trips, the Jackson EMC Foundation recently awarded the Elachee Nature Science Center a $10,500 grant to serve schools in Jackson EMC’s service area. Since 2016, Elachee has received $29,600 in grants from the Jackson EMC Foundation.

According to Jones, the grant allows students to learn in nature at Elachee who may not have otherwise had the opportunity.