Galax Middle School, Fall Enrichment Program

As Executive Director of BRDC, I would like to thank the Galax City School System, Bill Sturgill and Rebecca Cardwell.  Also both principals, Kristina Legg and Justin Iroler were instrumental in their guidance.  Aaron Horton rolled up his sleeves for some serious grunt work.  Below are the accounts from both program directors.

Scott Jackson-Ricketts


The National Fishing in the Schools program took on the task of teaching approximately 30 students the basics of fly fishing in a week. With 1 ½ hours/class, and two classes on each of five days we exposed these energetic kids to a hobby that has great potential for life long enrichment. 

During this crash course the students learned to tie special knots required to setup the fly line and attach the fly. They became thoroughly acquainted with all of the equipment of fly fishing including fly reels, rods, lines, leaders and flies. They kept a running journal to document what they learned and illustrated observations to reinforce the concepts of fly fishing. They participated in competitive relays to release some of the seemingly endless youth energy and studied the three most important aquatic macroinvertebrates: mayflies, stoneflies and caddis flies. They cast at bulls-eye targets to better understand the association between fish species and the different types of flies, while honing their casting skills. They learned the basics of fly casting that can be put to use on any open water. They learned about the culture of fly fishing by watching modern short films and reading famous writers like Norman Maclean. They also discussed conservation ethics including “Leave No Trace” and proper ways to handle a fish.  In the finale, they learned about fish species and tested their new skills with a competition casting for “real fake fish” at 20’, 25’ and 30’. All of the students received a hand tied fly pin for their enthusiasm during the course. 

A gracious thanks to Lisa Benish for her dedicated efforts in teaching the National Fishing in the Schools Program; Katie Cole, founder of the NFSP and Chris Dunnavant, Angling Education Coordinator at VADGIF for providing the equipment and lesson plans.

Aaron Floyd, President of BRDC and FIS program director


Hands in the Dirt is a program developed by Blue Ridge Discovery Center to give kids exposure to plant, soil, wildlife and habitat education while providing an opportunity for them to improve their school grounds in some way. Approximately 30 Galax Middle School students recently participated by creating and installing a butterfly garden, inspired by a cooperative project in York County, “Schoolyard Habitats: Monarch Initiative” carried out by Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Master Naturalists, and Virginia Master Gardeners. 

For the first 2 days, students become acquainted with the importance of creating butterfly habitat. Program guides used a variety of tools, including worksheets, field guides, a YouTube video, and iPads to assist students with completing self-directed research, focusing on the significant decline of the Monarch butterfly. The kids then got to the heart of the project by examining a variety of soils and beginning excavation on their garden plot. Volunteer Kathy Cole, a master gardener, introduced participants to the types of plants appropriate for the butterfly garden and discussed issues such as spacing, sunlight and water. Students then had the opportunity to sketch out their own designs for the garden.

The kids worked hard for the remaining three days, removing sod, adding top soil, installing a rain barrel, and finally, planting. The project sparked lots of interest from school personnel and passers-by, so students created posters identifying the garden as a butterfly habitat and warning against the use of weed killers. Many of the students expressed interest in ongoing monitoring and maintenance of the garden, and all made a personal contribution to the project.

A special thank you to Barbara Dunbar and Jody Turner for inspiration and ideas; Carol Heiser, Education Director with the VDGIF for support; Cathy Dowling from Blevins Building Supply for the rain barrel hardware; Galax Farm Supply for mulch; Zach Olinger with Matthews State Forest for the rain barrel; Kathy Cole for plants and hard work; and to John Fant for providing top soil. Finally, this success of this program would not have been possible without on-site support from Brenda Bonk.

Sarah Osborne, BRDC board member and HITD program director