Mapping out their world

Area students get up close and personal with Geographical Information Systems

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— What started as an Orton Family Institute idea of developing tools for local students to understand their community better and the Yampa Valley Legacy Foundation's dedication to provide local placed-based education opportunities has blossomed into a thriving Yampa Valley Community Mapping Program.

On Wednesday, teachers and students got to see just how far the program has come at an open house at Centennial Hall to present the nine projects now off and running in Routt and Moffat county public schools.

"A little more than two years later and here we are in the mapping business. It couldn't have happened without the dedication of teachers and students," said Connie Knapp, the program manager for the Yampa Valley Community Mapping Program.

Students who participate in the program learn and use a cornucopia of different skills, but most of it is centered around learning to run a Geographical Information Systems computer program.

"But it's much more than that," said Lynne Drogosz, project coordinator for the Yampa Valley Community Mapping Program.

Teachers choose a local subject that can be mapped. For example, south Routt students mapped accidents on Colorado 131.

They did that by taking accident information from the past 10 years provided by the ambulance service in Oak Creek.

Students entered the information into the GIS system and a map was created to show each accident on the computer screen. The user can pick an accident on the map and find information about it. The students also can ask the program questions such as how many accidents involving 16-year-old drivers happened?

But it's more than that, too, Knapp said.

"It's that bridge to the real world that we are trying to connect," she said.

For example, Steamboat Springs High School students mapped the infestation of bark beetles in two tree stands on Buffalo Pass.

Steamboat Springs High School biology teacher Charlie Leech showed during the open house how, along with learning the GIS computer program, students learned to identify a beetle-infested tree and other ecology issues connected to the forest.

Hayden Middle School students plotted the movement of the Yampa River from the Carpenter Ranch west to the Monger Ranch and to the Merrill Ranch.

"When we first started, we felt it was way over our heads," Hayden student Justine Bedell said, adding that some of the reading they had to do was on a 12th-grade level.

Further bridging the students to the real world, each project proves to have a significant value to the community, Knapp said.

Colorado Division of Wildlife area manager Jim Haskins said the work done for the Steamboat Middle School's nuisance bear project, which plots bear sightings in Steamboat Springs on a map, is valuable data.

On a completely different learning level, the students are presenting these projects to the public, "learning interpersonal skills," Knapp said.

Whether it's presenting to Routt County Commissioners their mapping project or presenting at the open house, students have to understand the project, organize it in a logical way and present it for people to understand, Knapp said.

During the last week of March, Hayden and Soroco students traveled to the ninth annual Kids Who Know and Do Conference at the Bill Graham Center in San Francisco, Calif., to present

their projects.

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