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First-graders explore great outdoors

Highlands State Park06SEBRING — Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School first-graders crisscrossed a swamp and connected with nature April 16 during a field trip to Highlands Hammock State Park in Sebring.

The group of 33 students journeyed across the boardwalk through the cypress swamp trail, which snakes just above the water. A narrow portion of the boardwalk, which only has a rail on one side, thrilled the explorers. Insects, frogs and small fish were abundant, but there wasn’t an alligator in sight.

“I never went on a nature walk before,” said Miley Jimmie, 7. “I was holding onto the rail and looking for gators.”

“Walking on the bridge was scary and fun,” added Jovanny Torres, 7.

The science curriculum in the first-grade classrooms includes living and non-living things, butterfly life cycles, mammals and animal mothers with their young.

“It was a great way for them to experience nature and see animals in their natural habitat,” said Rachel Raulerson, a first-grade teacher at PECS.

Teacher Chris Duncan’s students pointed out butterflies, dragonflies, beetles, mosquitoes and spiders as they navigated through the swamp.

“We have been talking about insects and what classifies something as an insect or bug in our class,” Duncan said. “We talked about how bugs are an important part of the food chain in a swamp. We also identified different types of plants, from trees to moss.”

Founded in 1931, the 9,000-acre park also features trails through pine flatwoods, ancient hardwood hammocks and a fern garden. After a picnic lunch, students enjoyed the park’s playground where they tested themselves on the monkey bars and swings.

During lunch, nature came to watch the students in the form of a hungry raccoon. The kids agreed it was the second coolest thing they saw all day, after the section of the boardwalk with only one rail.

“They were eager to learn about everything we explored,” Duncan said. “They asked many questions and are still talking about the trip.”

Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at