Exploring a fossil bed and seeing horses and alpacas was just the beginning of a visit for 250 third-graders to ranchland south of Killeen.

When Skipcha Elementary School third-grade teacher Emily Polson found out some of her students didn’t know what a hay bale was, the longtime horsewoman knew she needed to do something.

Polson and her mother-in-law Amanda Polson, a third-grade teacher at Trimmier Elementary School, live on property called the Maypole Ranch on East Trimmier Road.

Amanda Polson takes her classes to her family property every year and this year decided with her daughter-in-law to make it a two-school trip with 13 classes from Trimmier and Skipcha.

Students cycled through six stations dealing with math, science and history.

Along the way, students used a field guide created by Skipcha teacher Bethany Chavarria with space to draw pictures, fill in their findings and make reflections.

Students walked along a rocky creek bed examining examples of cast, mold and imprint fossils, some resembling shells or containing leaf imprints.

“We wanted them to come out and have an experience, to see cows and goats and alpacas,” Amanda Polson said. “It’s an amazing experience they get to have.”

The Trimmier teacher said she knows of fifth-graders who have written about their memories of visiting the ranch as kindergarten students.

“We want them to understand life on a ranch,” said Skipcha teacher Rochelle Lugo. “All of these activities are built around life lived out here.”

Students learned about three types of hay — sudan, alfafa and coastal — and compared the weight of each. Sudan, a drought-resistant variety, holds in moisture.

The third-graders also went on hayrides that led to a pond and a windmill powered by a solar panel.

They tossed pumpkins, estimating distance in hands, the unit of measurement used to measure horses.

At another station, students used proto-scopes to examine various rocks, fossils, deer antlers and various animal droppings.

“This is an experience a lot of kids don’t get,” said Emily Polson. “I talk about hay bales and they say ‘What’s a hay bale?’ They don’t know what it is to live on the land.”

Soak it all in

Looking around at students settling on the grass to eat lunch, the teacher said they were soaking it in — the lesson and the experiences.

“They’re loving it,” she said. “I’m seeing them light up. We told them what they might expect and now we’re really finding it.”

“What was cool was the fossil hunt and the farm dress-up,” said Skipcha third-grader Martin Plas as he handled a fossil he called an ammonite.

The relay required students to dress in farm clothes and run a course.

“I like how we did the fossil hunt,” said third-grader Mariah Cisneros of Skipcha. She noted that students were allowed to keep just one fossil they discovered.

“We also got to see Mrs. Polson’s horse,” she said. “I think I’m going to remember the fossil hunt and the farm relay.”

“They really have an understanding of life on a ranch,” Lugo said. “On the bus they saw a horse and said, ‘Oh look, a horse.’ Now I hope they will say, ‘I’ve seen one and here’s what I know about life on a ranch.’”

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