A taste of ecology for Strawberry Park

School's fourth-graders using local surroundings to create nature journal

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Students at Strawberry Park Elementary School are learning about local ecology with more than just their eyes. With field trips and hands-on demonstrations, the students are using all five senses to learn about local ecology.

"You could sort of taste the humidity in the air," fourth-grader Jaelyn Kohl, 10, said about a field trip to the Yampa River.

Fourth-graders took two field trips to the river's Rotary Boardwalk this fall as part of a yearlong nature-journaling project. Students are creating a book -- that they hope to publish -- about wildlife, weather and seasons in the Yampa Valley.

All four of the school's fourth-grade classes are participating in the project. Some students create art for the book's pages, some research animals, and others write. For many students, the experience is opening new doors to creativity.

"I never felt like an artist until I had a paint brush in my hand," said 9-year-old Kelly Borgerding, a student in Karen Goodman's class.

During one of the trips to the river, children's author Kristin Joy-Pratt Serafini joined the students to provide inspiration and guidance.

"These are the future writers and illustrators," Joy-Pratt Serafini said after her visit. "They do have a talent that needs to be shared."

The book project is funded by a $1,000 Teacher of the Year grant from Wal-Mart, awarded to fourth-grade teacher Lisa Adams, and a $2,500 Legacy Education Foundation grant.

Fifth-graders at Strawberry Park Elemen--tary learned about water pollution last week in a lesson taught by Yampatika naturalist Karen Vail.

Vail used a model of a small town, complete with a river, vegetation and drainage paths, to demonstrate water pollution and how to prevent it.

"It's very visual," Vail said, holding up a jar of dark red "sewage" she made with Kool-Aid. "And the kids love the smells."

Vail used cocoa powder to represent fertilizer and dog waste. The fifth-graders who crowded around the model gasped in surprise when Vail said about 10,000 dogs produce 8.5 tons of waste in Routt County every year.

Vail told students that to prevent pollutants from entering the water system, they can pick up after their pets and not litter.

One fifth-grader said eating organic foods also would help by reducing pesticide and herbicide use.

"I thought it was pretty neat that he understood that concept," Vail said afterward.

The lesson is funded by a city grant, Vail said, allowing Yampatika to provide it free to schools. Yampatika is a Steamboat Springs-based nonprofit organization that teaches environmental education throughout Northwest Colorado.

"All teachers have to do is call us and set up a time," she said.

Strawberry Park Elementary Principal Mark MacHale said the hands-on nature lessons will have a lasting impression on students.

"I'm not sure whether these guys will remember if they get proficient or advanced scores on the CSAP this year, but I bet they will remember this," MacHale said.

-- To reach Mike Lawrence, call 871-4203 or

e-mail mlawrence@steamboatpilot.com

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