Students get together for the Yampa River

Ecology project breaks down barriers between communities

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— For the last two years some Soroco High School juniors and seniors "walk on water" while studying about the ecology of the Yampa River or at least that's what their first-grade study-buddies from Soda Creek Elementary School thought.

This phenomenon is the result of a partnership program called the Yampa River Ecology Project.

The project coupled students together from the two schools to learn about science in the Yampa Valley from field trips.

"Their primary purpose is to study the river," said Elaine Sturges, project facilitator.

But their secondary objective bringing down the barriers between the two schools and two communities is just as important, Soroco science teacher Ed Hayne said.

Students were put in pairs in September one Soroco junior or senior with one Soda Creek first grader from Barbara Keenan or Kate Harris' class.

Then the 35 pairs of study-buddies went on five different field trips together around the county to study the ecology of the river and water.

They went to the Carpenter Ranch, the Stagecoach Wetlands, planted trees at Fetcher Pond and visited each other schools.

The first graders also took a trip to the Colorado Division of Wildlife fish hatchery, just south of Yampa.

The students benefited from the having the opportunity to spend time outside of the classroom with someone twice or half their age.

"I'm so impressed with the Soroco High School students," first grade teacher Barbara Keenan said. "They really took the kids underneath their wing. The older kids really mentored the little kids on all of our field trips."

And the first graders gladly went on with their partners, she said.

"The first graders worshiped their high school study-buddies," Sturges said. "And the high school kids love being worshiped. It was good for their self esteem."

Hayne said the first graders believed the high school students could "walk on water."

"Self esteem is one of the bigger things that they get out of this," Hayne said.

On Wednesday night, the group got together for the last time to perform a presentation to the community at Olympian Hall in Steamboat.

The students showed a crowd of approximately 80 people what they learned through the Yampa River Ecology Project.

They gave a presentation about each field trip they went on and talked about what they learned. They also put on a skit called Camping On The Yampa River, outlining stewardship practices the students learned that can be applied when camping on the river.

The study-buddies ended the evening singing songs, displaying art work and the high school students presented journals they kept from the project.

This is the second year the two schools have paired up to learn about the river through Yampa River Ecology Project, Sturges said.

"It worked so well last year, we thought we would do it again this year," she said.

Sturges actually came up with idea two years ago. She then requested a grant from the Yampa Valley Legacy Education Initiative, which agreed to fund the program for two years.

Next year, Sturges will have to find funds from a different place because the initiative grant will run out.

"With what we accomplished, it will take very little money to keep the program running," Hayne said. "Even if we don't get another grant, I'd like to see both school districts absorb the costs of the program."

To reach Doug Crowl call 871-4206

or e-mail dcrowl@steamboatpilot.com

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