Mary Beth Sallee
Reporter, Hart Co. News-Herald
At just five-years-old, Braydon Thompson began his journey with the Hart County 4-H program. From showing goats to competing in speeches, demonstrations, photography, and various art projects for the county fair, the now 13-year-old continues to push himself to achieve goals and expand his educational horizons.
Through 4-H, Braydon participates in a statewide program known as the Natural Resources & Environmental Sciences (NRESci) Academy.
According to the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food, and Environment website, “The NRESci Academy is a three-year program designed to teach youth about their natural environment. In the program, scholars participate in hands-on investigations to learn about Kentucky’s water, forest, entomology, and wildlife resources.”
Braydon had to apply for the three-year program at the end of fifth grade. Now as an eighth-grader, Braydon is in his third and final year of the NRESci Academy. He is the first and only Hart County youth to have ever participated in the program.
“Braydon has always shown an interest in nature and animals,” said Braydon’s mom, Crystal Thompson. “We heard about the opportunity through our then 4-H Agent, Amber Huffman. She encouraged us to apply.”
“I love learning about nature and animals,” said Braydon. “I thought it (the academy) would be a lot of fun.”
During his time in the NRESci Academy, Braydon has traveled all over the state of Kentucky learning about water systems, insects, forestry, trapping, wildlife, and conservation practices.
According to Crystal, the program requires quite a commitment. Braydon has participated in an overnight retreat in the summer and/or the fall each year. He has also participated in three one-day excursions throughout each school year. Braydon’s parents have taken him to NRESci Academy events across the state, including: Salato Wildlife Education Center (Frankfort), Lost River Cave (Bowling Green), Feltner 4-H Camp (London), Pine Mountain Settlement School (Harlan), and Bernheim Forest (Clermont).
Most recently, Braydon spent his spring break traveling with the NRESci Academy to Georgia. Crystal accompanied her son on the trip.
“We left for this trip on a Tuesday and traveled to Chattanooga to visit The Tennessee Aquarium,” Crystal said. “We then went to the Fortson 4-H Center in Hampton, Georgia. On Wednesday, we visited the Mary Kahrs Warnell Forest Education Center. It is managed by the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources: University of Georgia. The kids saw and learned about native reptiles and birds. From there we traveled to Tybee Island, Georgia. The students had two days of programming at the Burton 4-H Center on Tybee.”
Braydon’s classes at Tybee Island included Sea Turtles, Shark Dissection, Salt Marsh Ecology, Surf Sleuth, Marine Invertebrates, Beach Ecology, Ornithology, Maritime Forest Ecology at Fort Pulaski, and Discovery Cruise on the Savannah River.
“Each activity included a short classroom learning discussion and then followed with fun hands-on activities,” Crystal explained. “The kids visited the beach, the marsh, and the river. They were able to see and touch marine animals.”
Overall, Braydon and the other 4-H students from Kentucky had a great time learning about a variety of topics.
“On my trip to Tybee, I loved learning all about the different types of marine ecosystems and marine animals,” Braydon said. “…My favorite part of the trip was going to the North Beach on Tybee Island. We were able to explore, and we built models of the beach habitat and learned about erosion.”
Crystal stated that the NRESci Academy has been great for Braydon.
“He has enjoyed meeting new kids who share his interests,” Crystal said. “He has learned so much about environmental science and natural resources.”
“I feel like I have learned a lot about how humans effect the environment and how we can help protect the environment and animals,” Braydon added. “If you are in fifth grade, you should think about applying to the program.”
For more information about the NRESci Academy, visit the UK 4-H Youth Development page at www.4-h.ca.uky.edu/NRESci. You may also contact your local UK Extension Agency or 4-H Agent.