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“Play, Learn, Serve, Work”: Lessons in Dedication and Dissection From a Young Volunteer

After two years of participation as a Youth Fisheries Academy camper, Lydia Lawrence expressed interest in volunteering for this U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service educational program (description at the conclusion).  We were impressed by her motivation, commitment and enthusiasm, so we signed Lydia on (with parental consent) to serve as an instructor’s aid for the Fish Anatomy & Physiology learning station.  Her role was to assist the educational instructor with station set-up, instruction and break-down.  Lydia did a great job and love getting hands wet (and slimy) with the coho salmon dissection demonstrations as well as assisting campers with their individual dissections of rainbow trout (all hatchery specimens).  Lydia’s experience is a perfect example of the Department of Interior’s “Play, Learn, Serve, Work” youth initiative in action.  Perhaps she will become a Service employee one day….  The following is her story.

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Photo: Lydia concentrates as she removes and inspects a lens from a fish eye. Credit: Loretta Brown

This summer I was a volunteer for the Youth Fisheries Academy camp. The day before camp I went in to the lab to practice dissection. I met one of the people I would be working with, Alex, and he showed me what he was working on: seeing what fish ate. Then I started the dissection. At first we talked about what is on the outside of the fish slime, scales, fins and what they do and are called.   Then we cut open the fish and dissected the fish. We talked about the parts inside the fish and let me tell you something: It was AWESOME!!!!!!!!!! 

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The next day was fun too. I helped setup the stuff for dissection (above photo), geo-cashing, and such.  We then met the campers and dissected the first fish.  There was this annoying little wasp flying around and it bothered me and the campers, so we all stood away from the table.  A few minutes later the wasp flew in my direction so I speed walked to the other side and doing so said “meh” and we all laughed. Then it was lunch time and my hands smelled really bad. We ate and worked out a new plan. We then had a new group and the new group laughed when Alex did his weird dance (demonstrating how fish use their fins to steer themselves). Then when he was describing the slime he said, “Booger like stuff” I laughed and so did the campers. Then that was the end of that day, one day down two to go. 

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Photo: Lydia helps youth from the Nisqually Tribe with their dissections. Credit: USFWS

The very next day we had middle schoolers, my age group. Again I helped setup stuff and all that, but this time I also had a salmon lifecycle game to setup. We met the campers and set off. We did a few dissections and I answered a couple of questions and helped with their own dissections. That was the end of the day. I ate in the car on the way to the lab to do more dissection training and I helped a college volunteer with her dissection. I felt so accomplished that I helped a college student!

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Photo: Demonstrating at the telemetry station. Credit: USFWS

The next week, we met the campers and went down to the beach. . Then we did the beach seining and looked at the fish we caught. Then we did dissections and I helped a few kids dissect their fish. Then we switched groups and a girl asked me how old I am and I told her I was 12 and boy did she look surprised. Then we ate lunch and waited for that girl’s mom to bring her lunch then I acted like I was a camper.  

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I had the time of my life as a volunteer with the Youth Fisheries Academy camp this summer!

 The Youth Fisheries Academy (YFA) program was developed and implemented in 2010 to promote eco literacy and inspire the next generation of conservation advocates and professionals.  Through engaging hands-on activities, participants are provided with a realistic biological field and lab work experience in order to instill confidence in the scientific process and to demonstrate what conservation science is, how it is practiced, and why it is relevant.   The curriculum includes both full group activities as well four thematic learning modules which the participants rotate through in small groups.  These modules include:  Fish anatomy and physiology; fish identification and health; fish & wildlife technology; and field sampling methods.  

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