‘What you do now, can you do it forever?’
MINTURN – Standing in a circle, 14 teachers and students clasped their hands in the shape of pistols. “Squirt,” shouted Battle Mountain High School senior Josie John, pretending to shoot fellow senior Derek Rush, standing on the other side of the circle. He quickly dropped to the ground as those around him continued to “squirt” away. On a recent wet, snowy Wednesday, the group took some time out to play a game as they trekked up the Grouse Creek Trail in Minturn. Almost to their destination, Gore Range Natural Science School instructor Julie Shapiro halted the hike to give the 10 advanced-placement environmental science students some history about the mountain pine beetles for which they would shortly be searching.However, remaining stationary for so long allowed the cold to leech into their bones, and the game was a way to warm up and boost morale for what would be a soggy day studying an insect wrecking havoc on the forests in the Vail Valley. “The idea is to go home with a better understanding of what the cycle of a pine beetle is, and also a better idea of field methods,” Shapiro said. “So much in class is out of a book. This gives them a chance to get outside and really experience what they’re learning.”
Lights in the kids’ facesThe Gore Range Natural Science School predominantly runs natural science programs for elementary and middle school students. But when Battle Mountain High School teacher Marc Von Stralendorff launched a new environmental science class this school year, he saw a perfect partner in the Gore Range Natural Science School.”The kids are already familiar with the school, so this was an opportunity to continue that relationship,” Von Stralendorff said. “It’s our local science school, and I try to support them. The more teachers the better.”When Von Stralendorff decided he wanted to get his students into the field, Shapiro thought pine beetles would be an ideal study subject “because it’s such a hot topic right now.”
Along with Shapiro, Gore Range teachers Lara Carlson and Cody Evers hiked up with the students to examine the different types of trees in the forest and their degree of beetle infestation. Warm, dry and back in the classroom Monday, the students analyzed the data they gathered during the hike.”I saw a lot of lights go on in the kids’ faces when they saw that the information they gathered correlated with what they studied,” Shapiro said. Educating future citizensIn the lodgepole pine stand they analyzed, the students calculated the trees were smaller than the larger pines preferred by pine beetles. Because the beetles prefer the larger trees, the smaller trees were healthier, and the students predicted the trees they surveyed would see infestation decrease in the future.
“I consider it a really great success,” Shapiro said. “I would love to do this program again on different trails and different growths of trees. I think it’s just a really great way for students to see what goes on behind the headline.”In his sixth year at Battle Mountain High School, Von Stralendorff said he was the catalyst behind introducing an advanced placement environmental science class.”I think it’s important to have an environment class here because I thought our geography meant kids would have a connection to our surroundings, but I found that most of them, they’re city kids,” Von Stralendorff said. Striving to make that connection between teenagers and the environment, Von Stralendorff’s new class received a lukewarm response with 13 students signing up, but he’s optimistic word-of-mouth will boost its popularity. He’ll have to maintain at least 12 students in the class to keep it. Because of a lack of teaching materials for his class, “the more real life experience they have, the more they’re going to be able to bridge the gaps on their own,” Von Stralendorff said.
But to the enthusiastic teacher, the class is far more than teaching academics to pass the end-of-year exam that could earn the students college credit.”I want them to reflect on their own lifestyles – to ask: what you do now, can you do it forever?” he said. “I’m educating future citizens. These guys are going to be making the decisions one day, and if they can understand how these things work, they’ll be better off.”Staff Writer Nicole Frey can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Vail, Colorado