Just before their Thanksgiving break, Trinity Catholic Elementary School students put the "field" in "field trip."

The school's fourth- and fifth-grade classes spent most of Nov. 20 and 21 at Stratford Ecological Center in Delaware.

"It's a chance for students to visit a working farm, which most of our kids haven't had a chance to do before," said Kimber Moehrman, who is in her first year as principal of the Grandview-area parochial school.

Moehrman previously was a fifth-grade teacher at Trinity, taking classes on the trip to Stratford several times.

"We do this field trip every two years," she said. "We include both the fourth and fifth grades, because our classes are so small.

"It's always a highlight of the year for our students," Moehrman said.

While the students have a lot of fun visiting Stratford, they are also learning, she said.

"Visiting a farm helps bring the science lessons they're learning in the classroom to life," Moehrman said. "Stratford has such a great program."

The students will pay another visit to the farm in the winter and two more times in the spring, she said.

"You could do the field trip all in one week, but breaking it up into multiple visits gives our students the chance to observe nature in the different seasons," Moehrman said.

Stratford's program, called "Messages from the Earth," reinforces concepts of life science that match up with Ohio's fifth-grade science curriculum standards, said Katryn Renard.

Renard is coordinator of the Messages from the Earth program.

Over their two-day autumn visit, Trinity students split into groups and hiked along two trails, participating in activities that explored the flow of energy and matter in an ecosystem.

"Each activity is fun, but there's real science they're learning at each stop," Renard said.

Students learned about how energy from the sun is passed up the food chain; explored the process of photosynthesis by simulating the creation of a carbohydrate inside a giant leaf; and competed in a race that helped them determine whether it takes more energy to produce a hamburger or peanut-butter sandwich.

"As they complete an activity, each group earns a banner with a phrase that relates to that activity and the lesson involved," Renard said.

"The 'messages from the earth' they are learning are all about how our food, water and oxygen are produced for us," she said.

When they return in the winter, the students will learn about cycles and changes in an ecosystem. In the springtime, the activities will relate to the interrelationships and interactions of organisms in the ecosystem.

Taking the field trip to Stratford was exciting, said fifth-grader Sophia Scott.

"It was really interesting to talk about the food chain," she said. "I think my favorite part was when we went into the giant leaf."

Fifth-grader Edwin Rodriguez said he learned more about how the food chain works.

"The energy comes from the sun, then it goes from the plants to smaller organisms, then on up to larger animals," he said.

Hiking the trails was fun, Edwin said.

"We got to do a lot of fun games and activities," he said, "and it was cool to see the farm animals."

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