Out in the field | VailDaily.com

Out in the field

Veronica Whitney
Eagle Valley Middle School seventh-graders organize their research notes along the Eby Creek. From left are: Jessie Cooper, 12, Barry Quinn, 13, Linzy Capdeboscq, 13, (please check the last name from story) Victor Tecla, 14, Molly Crocker, 13, and Gary Warfield, 12.

Eating ants doesn’t seem to make a lasting impression on Molly or five other Eagle Valley Middle School seventh-graders who tasted the bugs – but it is a novelty.

“Let’s try some more,” says Linzy Capdebosca, 12, of Eagle.

“The back of the ant’s body has citric acid,” explains Cindy Tribble, a faculty member at Gore Range Natural Science School, as she leads the group Monday during The Eby Creek Watershed Geographic Survey, a biophysical monitoring project led by Gore Range Natural Science School.

The day is spent conducting terrestrial research around Eby Creek, just north of Interstate 70 near Eagle. The children compare the biodiversity of two nature communities – riparian and pinon-juniper forest – by identifying and counting scat, animal tracks, trees and shrubs.

“Scat!” calls Linzy as the group climbs the hill towards the pinon-juniper forest community.

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“Hit,” Molly says, canvassing the vegetation in a plot previously surveyed.

Jessie Cooper, 12, tabulates the data, which will later be compared to other data from the riparian community.

“There’s a lot of cryptobiotic soil here, so be careful when you walk,” Tribble tells the group.

Cryptobiotic soil looks crusty, she says, and contains microbial plant communities that grow beneath the soil’s surface.”

The program gives the children awareness of the place they live, Tribble explains.

“It’s connecting them to their backyard,” she says. “The goal is that the kids develop respect for the environment.”

Prior to the field trips, students formulate testable research questions and hypothesis concerning wildlife use of riparian, sagebrush and pinon-juniper habitats.

The survey also includes aquatic research studying macroinvertebrates in various sections of Eby Creek. Macroinvertebrates are major indicators

of water quality.

“This is not just a cute activity,” says Ted James, one the organizers of the program and a teacher of science and math at Eagle Valley Middle School. “This program empowers the kids to help improve their lives and others.”

During the seven-day program, students also get to learn academic standards for math, algebra, geometry and science, he says.

“Because the Colorado Division of Wildlife doesn’t have enough personnel to do this research,” James says, “the data the children gather is very helpful.”

Students use hand-held computers and equipment purchased with several grants to help them measure the speed of the current and temperature of water in the creek.

“The equipment helps the kids to get instant feedback,” James says. “And it also helps to report faster once we get back to school. We’re trying to do some innovative things.”

Gary Warfield, 12, is one of the children trained to use the equipment.

“It makes it more interesting to combine the equipment with research,” he says, checking the altitude on a global-positioning system.

The program has evolved over the past four years, James says, beginning as part of the Rivers of Colorado Water Watch Network administered by the Division of Wildlife.

“The Gore Range Natural Science School deserves credit for the existence of this program,” James says. “Without them, I could not do this kind of research with my students and would certainly not have been selected to receive grant funding.”

The Gore Range Nature Science School is engaged with other schools in other biophysical monitoring projects in other watersheds, too, under a program called SOAR.

“Students only pay $10 per day for Gore Range instruction, which is only a fraction of the total cost to the school,” James says.

Molly Crocker and Linzy Capdebosca agree that doing the survey in the field is more interesting than a regular day at school.

“I like to look at the animals,” Linzy says. “And get to know the environment around us better.”

The only participants unhappy about the activities that day may have been the ants.

Grants for research

For the past four years, he Eagle Valley Middle School-Eby Creek survey program operates under grants from several programs and organizations, including:

– Learn and Serve America.

– The Colorado Department of Health and the Environment.

– The Youth Foundation.

– Toyota TIME.

– Palm PEP.

Most of the funds are used to purchase equipment, says Ted James, a teacher of science and math at the school, who worked to secure the grants. Some of the funds have been used for training, buying supplies and for subsidizing transportation costs.

Toyota’s Investment in Mathematics Education, or the TIME grant, is for a two-year period pays for training at national math conferences in Chicago and Las Vegas. In the past six years,184 Toyota TIME grants have been awarded nationwide. EVMS is among 7 schools in Colorado to have received the grant.

The Palm Education Pioneers, or Palm PEP, grant provided 30 hand-held

computers worth a total value of $9,000 value. The grant seeks to see how easily seventh-graders collect data on water quality and to test equipment for the Palm Corporation. The Youth Foundation and Alpine Bank recently donated $1,900, which paid for interfaces so the probes could be plugged in to the hand-held computers. EVMS was among 87 Palm PEP grant recipients among 1,300 applications nationwide.

Veronica Whitney can be reached at (970) 949-0555 ext. 454 or at vwhitney@vaildaily.com.

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