Steamboat Springs Ed Hayne's biology students found a rapt audience this year in the classrooms of South Routt Elementary School.
Fourteen juniors at Soroco High School partnered in the fall with two first-grade classes to increase their knowledge of the local environment.
The Study Buddy Stewardship Project brings high school and elementary students together to foster an appreciation for the ecology that surrounds them.
The program also fosters friendships that help to bridge the age gap.
Deb Knott and Kim Rabon's first-grade students look up to their teen-age mentors.
"They think we walk on water," said junior Jesse Northrop, who mentored Amber Garrity and Cassandra Schmid.
Northrop, Garrity and Schmid joined 13 other teams Tuesday evening to present the lessons they learned throughout the year to parents and members of the South Routt community.
The study buddies took the stage in the South Routt Elementary School gymnasium to sing and narrate about their field trips that included plant and animal research on the Yampa River.
The field trips included visits to the Yampa River, Bear River, Stagecoach Dam, Soroco High School, South Routt Elementary School, Trout Creek and the Stagecoach Wetland Trail.
Students made observations and collected data from each field site, which they reflected in a skit titled "Camping on the Yampa."
The high school students played the part of campers who learned to be better stewards of the environment, thanks to the vigilance of wildlife, played by the first-graders.
Tyson Gilleland got the attention of the crowd when he revved up his motorcycle and stated his intentions to cut across the imaginary river.
A bobcat, weasel, marten and garter snake convinced the happy camper to ride his motorcycle on the road away from the river so as not to disturb the wildlife.
The students concluded the evening with songs about the importance of wildlife habitats and being responsible for the care of the Yampa River.
Junior Brandon Ager said the program provided a nice ending to the yearlong project.
He not only learned a few things about the local environment, but he discovered how rewarding it could be to mentor a younger student, he said.
When he was in elementary school, he looked up to the high school students, Ager said.
Now that he was a high school student, though, he said he understood how much the first-graders valued their time with older students.
Their outings afforded high school students and first-graders a chance to play.
"It was fun to be a kid again," Ager said.
Northrop said the time she spent helping her study buddies with their projects taught her patience and understanding.
Hayne said his biology students took their mentoring roles seriously.
They understood they served as role models to the first-graders, he said.
And while the elementary students got plenty of attention from the high school students, the high school students also got something in return.
"They gained a lot of confidence from this," Hayne said.
One of the bigger projects entailed research on birds that live in South Routt. The high school students designed and wrote books about their birds for their first-grade study buddies.
They also built birdhouses for their birds and plan to hang them in town parks in Yampa and Oak Creek.
The Soroco Study Buddy Project, one of about a dozen teams in schools throughout the state, began in Routt County three years ago through the Yampa Valley Legacy Education Initiative.
Elaine Sturges, early childhood and conservation education specialist, approached Hayne about implementing the project in South Routt.
Hayne said he expects the project will continue next year.
The ChevronTexaco Foundation sponsors the Study Buddy Stewardship Project with a grant to the Early Childhood Project WILD program.
The Colorado Division of Wildlife and Colorado Wildlife Heritage Foundation sponsors Project WILD.