The Yampa Valley through a fourth-grader's eyes

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— Strawberry Park Elementary School fourth-graders spent Thursday morning writing about what they saw and felt as they stood along the Yampa River near the Boardwalk at Rotary River Park.

Encouraged by children's author and illustrator Kristin Joy Pratt-Serafini, the children braved low temperatures to capture the atmosphere in writing.

"When you get back inside and it's warm and cozy, then you will forget how cold you are (now)," Pratt-Serafini told the students.

Using the sky, sun, river, vegetation and the lifting fog for motivation, the students put pencil to paper as part of a yearlong project to help them learn about the Yampa River while strengthening their reading, writing, scientific and artistic skills.

Fourth-grader Meg O'Connell asked questions of Pratt-Serafini.

"Could you say, 'Great clouds of whiteness floating around?'" she asked. "Or, 'The leaves look like snow'?"

"Yes," Pratt-Serafini replied, complimenting Meg's details and other descriptions offered by the students.

Fourth-grader Casey Weston took notes: My sweatshirt feels great... leaves are gold... white bubbles flowing down the river.

The journal of fourth-grader Emily Cowan seemed to take on story form.

I can feel the chill through my thin gloves. My face is red with the cold, and my wrists are freezing! An icy blanket covers everything, but it's slowly turning into water before my eyes. Leaves fall like burnt orange snow. Everything is quiet, except for the distant humming of the highway.

Another group of fourth-graders was nearby, listening as Colorado Division of Wildlife district wildlife manager Mike Middleton taught them about the environment. The students sketched and painted birds with the help of local watercolor artist and instructor Mary Levingston.

"We wanted to do something that was place-based and that got the kids outside recording, researching and writing ... in an authentic way," said Lisa Adams, a fourth-grade teacher at Strawberry Park who got the project rolling.

Adams was named Wal-Mart Teacher of the Year for the 2004-05 school year, an honor that included a $1,000 grant for a project. She also received a $2,500 grant from the Legacy Education Foundation.

The project came together with help from Strawberry Park's fourth-grade teachers, librarian Sherry Holland and learning support specialist Celia Dunham.

During this first visit, four students from each fourth-grade class went to the boardwalk to work on their journals. When they return to the classroom, they will act as mentors to the other students, just as Pratt-Serafini was their mentor in the field.

All fourth-graders will return to the boardwalk to observe the river and landscape during different times of the year, seeing how it changes with the seasons. The classes will create and publish a book: a Yampa River Walk Journal.

The project helps students learn that nonfiction writing does not have to be boring or dry. And it lets students who get more excited about science use that enthusiasm when writing, Adams said.

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