For some of Virginia's students, going back to school may include going to camp--one of commonwealth’s 4-H educational centers for a unique instructional experience. Schools across the state utilize the centers to teach science and ecology.

"What better place for Virginia students to learn about the outdoors than the outdoors," said Robert Ray Meadows, director of the state 4-H program at Virginia Tech.

Last year more than 7,000 students came to programs at Virginia's six 4-H educational centers. Teachers can make arrangements to bring students to use facilities at the centers for a variety of programs.

The six educational centers are located across the state:

==> Jamestown Center in Williamsburg, Va.

==> Southwest Center in Abingdon, Va.

==> Airfield Center in Wakefield, Va.

==> Northern Virginia Center in Front Royal, Va.

==> W. E. Skelton 4-H Educational Conference Center at Smith Mountain Lake in Wirtz, Va.

==> Holiday Lake Center in Appomattox, Va.

"These wonderful facilities give students great perspective on the environment issues they study," said Lisa Eckstein, educational specialist at the W.E. Skelton 4-H Educational Conference Center at Smith Mountain Lake. "Students can experience the interaction of the forest and aquatic ecology in a way you can’t get from reading a book."

The W.E. Skelton 4-H center offers programs in forest ecology, aquatic ecology, wildlife ecology, entomology, weather education, pollution and water quality, and earth sciences. The center has hiking trails and water activities such as canoeing and kayaking on Smith Mountain Lake.

Holiday Lake 4-H Educational center at Appomattox emphasizes natural resources, said Mike Hayslett, who directs the program there. Schools can participate in programs that emphasize the life and earth sciences.

At the Jamestown 4-H Educational center, programs emphasize marine science and ecology. These programs are conducted in cooperation with the Historic Jamestown, Yorktown, and Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

"Students can participate in field trips that include history sessions as well as the forestry, ecology and outdoor recreation," said Sue Vezeau, who develops and coordinates the program at the Jamestown Center. More than 1,600 elementary and middle school students in the counties near the Jamestown Center participated in the programs there last spring.

4-H centers that offer educational programs will work with the public and private schools in their regions. Teachers may contact the 4-H center near them about which topics their students need to learn. Staff also design educational programs for home-schooled youth.

Learning about the natural resources and environment at the 4-H Educational centers has an added feature, said Meadows. The programs at the centers are designed to help promote life skills such as goal setting, problem solving, leadership skills, personal exploration, and teamwork.

"These are skills that are essential to everyday life," he said. The programs at the centers place emphasis on developing these skills in all the summer programs as well as the environmental education.

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