This article first appeared in the Aiken Standard.
No matter how deeply technology has become ingrained into our society, the natural world remains.
Conserving our natural world is a core part of Audubon South Carolina's mission. Through local efforts, that mission is being carried out in Aiken County.
One way is through a collaboration with the Silver Bluff Audubon Center and Sanctuary in Jackson.
Each year, 2,000 elementary school students from South Carolina and Georgia travel out to the center in order to experience STEM, or science, technology, engineering and math, lessons in a more hands-on setting.
"The National Audubon Society's mission is to conserve and restore natural ecosystems, focusing on birds and other wildlife and their habitats. By exposing students to wildlife and aquatic and terrestrial habitats at the Silver Bluff Audubon Center and Sanctuary, the foundation for future conservation is laid," said Susanne A. Kneece, the STEP coordinator at USC Aiken's Ruth Patrick Science Education Center.
The Ruth Patrick Center offers STEP, or Science and Technology Enrichment Program, activities at SRS and the Silver Bluff Center to small groups of private school, public school and homeschool students.
"Students on field trips (at Silver Bluff) are exposed to the environment through lab studies, field studies and eco-hikes which educate and hopefully inspire them to value and protect the natural world," Kneece said.
Overseen by Kneece and her colleague Beth Eberhard, students might examine tiny creatures under a microscope, follow a fox's track or construct a topographic model of the local watershed to teach them how to maintain the health of area streams and rivers. Eberhard is an environmental educator who works at Ruth Patrick.
"Too many kids these days, even in rural areas, do not have access to experiences with nature, or they choose to stay indoors. Silver Bluff offers a critical bridge for, especially, these kids to be immersed in other fascinating worlds that ultimately can improve their well-being," said Paul Koehler, the Silver Bluff Center's director.
Teachers and homeschool groups can now view and reserve STEP offerings for the 2017-18 school year. The deadline is Friday. For more information, visit rpsec.usca.edu/step.
Another way Audubon South Carolina has contributed to local students' education is through the wildlife garden being constructed at East Aiken School of the Arts.
"We're so excited about the garden," Lisa Fallaw, the school's principal, said in a news release. "It's an authentic, hands-on way for our students to learn about the life cycles of plants and animals and how to care for and protect the environment."
Members from the Audubon South Carolina's Augusta-Aiken Chapter, particularly Alice and Doug Walker, from the Aiken Master Gardeners Association and from the Grovetown Troop 108 of the Georgia-Carolina District of Boy Scouts have all worked on the project.
One aspect of the work consisted of transporting native trees and shrubs from the Silver Bluff Center to provide the right assortment of insects, flowers and berries to help birds, bats, bees and butterflies survive.
"The courtyard project is so important," Eberhard said in the news release. "Kids who think nature is a rare treat – kids whose whole world is asphalt and screen-time – will soon have daily access to wildlife."
Stephanie Turner is the features reporter with the Aiken Standard, where she covers health topics, the arts, authors and restaurants. She graduated from Valdosta State University in 2012.