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GeoKids learn about rocks and connect with nature

The Geopark and the GeoKids are "a celebration of that intersection between the geology and the culture which is everything in Niagara."

What started as a classroom exercise in charity ended up growing into a wildly popular club for young people interested in rocks, biodiversity and earth science.

Francesca Sorrenti, a St. Davids resident and educator of 20 years, started the Kids’ Rock Club in 2016, when Kevin Strooband, executive director of the Humane Society of Greater Niagara and member of the Niagara Peninsula Geological Society, was a guest in her classroom to collect donations her class had raised.

The Kids’ Rock Club hadn’t run for more than years, and Strooband asked Sorrenti to start it up again. “At first I was a little hesitant because I’m not a geologist and I don’t have any earth
science background. But he said not to worry, there would be a lot of support for me,” said Sorrenti.

“He was absolutely right. The support was incredible.”

The club ran for several years before Sorrenti met Niagara Geopark founder Darren Platakis, and chair Perry Hartwick. “They came to support our monthly sessions and started talking to me about the Geopark.”

Soon after, the two groups merged and the Kids’ Rock Club started operating as GeoKids under the Niagara Geopark umbrella.

“This change will allow for streamlined administration, improved reach and better access to funding,” said Hartwick. “The sky’s the limit, really.”

Last year they had 50 members aged 5 to 14 years, and this year, there is still room for more.

“GeoKids’ goals are to help provide families and children opportunities to connect with nature in a fun and informative way,” said Sorrenti.

“We hope that children will one day become stewards and advocates for our earth, and all the life that it supports.”

On Sunday, several learning stations were set up at the community centre for the GeoKids meeting. Earth science students from Brock University, Jack Comerford, Kael Doomernik and Prestyn Sider hosted an interactive station about the layers of the earth.

GeoKid member Sam Young brought his rock collection to Grade 12 Eden student, Jonathan Vasilyev, where he discovered that he had in his collection a pretty rare gemstone, titanite, that he mined himself from the grounds of Tory Hill, Ontario. Vasilyev is a member of Niagara Geopark and he comes to every GeoKids meeting where “he provides us with the knowledge that the children need to know about rocks. He’s phenomenal,” said Sorrenti.

Vasilyev is only too happy to share his love of minerals with others. “It’s really something that people should appreciate from our planet. Just seeing how these beautiful things can occur. How do molecules, tiny little atoms, meticulously arrange themselves into these beautiful natural works of art? Like how is that possible?” Vasilyev displayed samples from his own pyrite mineral collection, and GeoKids’ members walked away with their own pyrite sample.

Olivia Cunningham was a special guest educator and local geologist who currently works in Nunavut. She explained the rock cycle to the members of the GeoKids club.

Darren Platakis’ station involved identifying landmarks on an unlabelled map of the Niagara Region. “We think of the Geopark and the GeoKids as a celebration of that intersection between the geology and the culture which is everything that we have in Niagara,” said Platakis.

“Our tourism is based on our geology with Niagara Falls. Our tourism is based on the geology of the Niagara Escarpment as it affects our wine industry and our climate. The Ice Age gave us our soils that we have below and on top of the escarpment.”

“Glacial activity and geology has impacted us in terms of our industry. So our quarries, our aggregate industry, it’s all here in Niagara and we need to celebrate that because it’s helped us develop where we are as a community,” said Platakis.

Frank Racioppo, president of Queenston Quarry, also supported the Kids Rock Club and now the GeoKids. “We had a fabulous trip inside the quarry in March, where children found many fossils, right here in our very own town,” said Sorrenti.

Queenston Quarry has also supported the group financially, so that Sorrenti could rent space at the community centre. Parent volunteers, parent geologists from Niagara-on-the-Lake and Brock students round out the volunteer base.

“Troy Milinkovich, a geologist, who has worked at Niagara Motors for 25 years in Virgil, has supported kiddos with learning by sharing his amazing rock collection,” said Sorrenti.

Nikolic Slobodan, a local NOTL resident and geologist, donated his rock collection to the club and would like to assist in supporting the meet-ups.

Strooband was a special guest presenter in June this year, and he has also donated much of his personal rock collection to the club.

Thankfully, Brian Ferguson, also from Niagara, “gave us a place to store the club materials and Garage Pizza donated pizza boxes that the kids use for rock boxes,” said Sorrenti.

But the learning takes place outside of the community centre as well. In September, Owen Bjorgan, founder of Owen’s Hiking and Adventures, and Carla Carlson, who runs Niagara Nature Tours, took the GeoKids Club around Walkers Creek and exposed them to the biodiversity that is abundant there.

Last month, the club visited Beamers Memorial Conservation Park, a Geosite, where GeoKids learned about white cedars, birds, salamanders, fossils, buckhorn trees, Eastern red cedars and hawks that live at the park.

“If it wasn’t for Darren introducing us to (Geopark sites), we would never know about these totally incredible sites,” said Sorrenti. “Parents said they heard about it, but had never come to visit. So a lot of them came and learned so much.”

Guided educational learning experiences are scheduled for Heartland Forest Nov. 26 and Rockway Conservation Area on Dec. 10.

To register, email [email protected]. Registration is $40 for the year, which includes trips and indoor learning sessions. Members can bring their own personal rock collections to meet-ups to show and share with the educators and others in the group.

“We’re open to donations as well from the community because it is a non-profit organization,” added Sorrenti.