The phrase ‘herding cats’ has become an over-used cliché describing the management of groups of animals, often people, and especially kids. But that term is unavoidably applicable to our experience this last Saturday, October 17th, as BRDC hosted 15 middle school students through the Galax Remedial Program. On Thursday before our trip, Aaron and Lisa Benish (BRDC volunteer guide) were smart to help the students create their own tee shirts, which were bright green, and fairly easy to spot. Heidi Breedlove (BRDC volunteer), Mark Robinson, (Galax 5th grade science teacher), and Scott Jackson-Ricketts (BRDC Program Director) hopped on a bus with our young charge to make the trip to Virginia Tech’s annual Hokie BugFest.
Begun in 2011, the festival claims to have grown by about 2000/year, with last year’s attendance reaching 6,112. If indeed that statistic held true this year, our 15 kids were snaking through a crowd of 8,000. According to their website, “Hokie BugFest is an annual fall festival celebrating the science of entomology -- a function of the Virginia Tech Department of Entomology.” With 40 booths, including BRDC’s (manned by Executive Director Aaron Floyd and board member Clyde Kessler), 9 tables, 7 activity rooms, and several scheduled presentations on the stage, the kids had their options, and we our hands full.
These selections included many VTech entomology specific booths dedicated to various orders of insects and spiders. The students were able to play with giant cockroaches, watch live bees in a portable hive, study exotic butterflies, and participate in Jeopardy modeled contests. They all spent some time upstairs, taking in the spider lair, face painting, and the crafts room. But the event that drew the most excitement was the Bug Chef’s demonstration. David George Gordon is apparently some kind of celebrity, and knew how to captivate his audience. Our group of kids squeezed up front, and several made it up on stage to assist in bug cooking. The grand finale was the deep frying of a tarantula, and two of our lucky lot ate spider legs. ‘Bug breath’ became a theme.
In preparation for this field trip, BRDC had been working with the remedial class on identification and capture of a variety of insects. We created killing jars, where the butterflies and grasshoppers, etc. could be humanely dispatched. Then we pinned them in a display case, which we brought with us to enter in the festival’s collection contest. On the bus heading to Blacksburg, we worked on creating and applying labels, including more identification. By the time we arrived, the collection was ready for submission. As it turned out, there were more collections entered in the contest than the judges were expecting, but we managed to earn a trophy for honorable mention, of which I think there were three. The kids were proud.
In the 3 hours we were playing cat and mouse, the kids exhausted themselves. Much thanks goes to Mark and Heidi, who along with me, were able to not lose one of the 15. In our estimation, the field trip was a huge success, and the students expressed appropriate appreciation.