Parents have a long tradition of asking their children what they did in school today.  During January through May of this year, some local parents and grandparents (as well as students) may have answered that same question with surprising reports: Facebook photos documented grandparents in waders navigating a clear flowing section of the Bosque River to observe and sample aquatic animals and water quality. Newly-minted knowledge may have included archaeological evidence of ancient campfires, the diversity of native plants and animals that manage to flourish in cities, and how to identify unknown plants and animals using a social media application called iNaturalist.

Notable explorations included an afternoon observing and learning about common regional snakes or a morning spent observing and learning what happens to municipal wastewater to transform it into the clean outflow that replenishes the Bosque River.   

Multigenerational learners learned about seldom-seen mammals that live in our region, or visited local geological formations that provide precious groundwater for agriculture and other uses.            

The spring training class of the Prairie Oaks Chapter of Texas Master Naturalists concluded May 3 with 20 participants successfully completing an initial 40 hours of basic training and six of those participants completing an additional eight hours of advanced training and 40 hours of volunteer service to achieve the status of Certified Texas Master Naturalist.  Upon reaching this status, the member receives a certificate, a permanent nametag, and the coveted dragonfly pin, tangible symbols of joining an elite corps of over 10,000 Texans who are united in a desire to serve in natural resource conservation and education.  Of particular note, five of those who successfully completed 40 hours of basic training were undergraduate and graduate students at Tarleton, whose participation was part of a course in Conservation Outreach and Interpretation.

In addition to the Tarleton students, participants in the course came from Palo Pinto, Comanche, and Eastland counties, as well as the Stephenville area.  Some are retirees dedicated to lifelong learning, while others are younger with active careers.  Two of the participants have BS degrees in Environmental Science but are somewhat new to Texas.  Other participants came with experience in business, engineering, pharmacy science, landscaping, farming, homemaking and more.  Some participants own rural property, from small farms to hundreds of acres; some grew up in rural areas while others have spent most of their lives primarily in towns and cities. 

One thing is for sure, when you ask a Texas Master Naturalist training class participant “what did you learn in school today?” you need to be prepared to listen for a while.  But don’t be surprised if the narrator ends up by saying that there is still so much left to learn, and then invites you to come as a guest to the next monthly advanced training program about another fascinating topic in Texas natural resources.

Dr. Marsha Stephens is the new training director for the Prairie Oaks Master Naturalist Chapter. She has a Ph.D in biology and is retired from New Mexico State University.