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Mapping program takes students into the wild

Partnership helps to build increased awareness of surroundings

— Mari Mahanna is not an English teacher.

But she does want her students to understand the difference between a noun and a verb.

A relatively new partnership between area communities and schools gave Mahanna an opportunity to demonstrate that difference.



Mahanna, a science teacher at Hayden High School, and two of her freshman science classes participate in the Orton Family Foundation’s Yampa Valley Community Mapping Program.

“Science is a verb,” she said. “You don’t do science in the classroom.”



The community mapping program took her students out of the classroom and into the wild.

Mahanna said she tells her students that scientists cannot study everything in a lab; they first go out and gather data.

So like scientists, her students left the walls of their classroom this fall for some fieldwork at The Nature Conservancy’s Carpenter Ranch.

The freshmen trudged through bushes and got their hands dirty measuring the depth of abandoned river channels to better understand growing pike populations.

“I told them that this is what scientists do,” Mahanna said.

With their data, they mapped the backwater of the Yampa River around the ranch.

A few of the students from the class presented their findings Wednesday at Hayden High School.

Students from Steamboat Springs High School, Soroco High School and Lowell Whiteman Primary School presented their mapping projects as well.

The presentations culminated months of research and analysis.

The mapping program not only enriches student’s knowledge of the world around them, but also aids the community, said Betsy Blakeslee, who works for The Nature Conservancy at the Carpenter Ranch.

“All of these projects should be relevant,” Blakeslee said.

Personal application remains a critical component of the mapping program, she added.

The Nature Conservancy was able to use the map created by Mahanna’s students to augment its own understanding of pike populations that thrive in sloughs around the ranch.

“For kids, any day out of the classroom is a good day,” Mahanna said.

The chance to leave the classroom sounded like a good proposition to freshmen Chris Suits and Chris Frentress, who mapped sloughs at the Carpenter Ranch.

Frentress said he liked that he and his classmates were able to put the data they collected to good use.

The map helped them to better understand their findings, he said.

Suits said he enjoyed learning how to use programs that would be useful to know in the future.

The students learned how to use PowerPoint and ArcView, in addition to the concepts of GIS mapping.

GIS showed him that a job in science could be exciting, Suits said.

Steamboat Springs High School senior Genny McGeary and sophomore Jenna Mosser presented their map of accidents along Rabbit Ears Pass.

The girls said they wanted to learn the connection between accidents and places.

The map could one day provide a useful resource for drivers to understand potential hazards along U.S. 40, but they would still need to collect additional data, they said.

The emphasis on gathering data outside a traditional classroom setting gave her students a new appreciation for what they learned in class, said Steamboat Springs High School geography teacher, Marian “Sam” Marti.

“The kids I have like hands-on stuff,” she said. “They didn’t even mind coming back to the classroom.”

Marti, who is retiring this year, said she is sad she won’t be able to help students through the program next year.

“The kids do like it,” she said. “It opens up their eyes.”

Steamboat Springs High School sophomores from Charlie Leech’s biology class presented the initial stages of a map that will eventually chart elk migration paths and food sources.

The class will work with Catamount Ranch and the Division of Wildlife to show how development affects the movement of elk in the region.

Jeff Coates said he and his classmates would like to determine how close development could get elk habitats without negatively affecting the herds.

He said he was looking forward to collecting the information on site.

“You get out of the classroom, for a change,” Coates said. “You get a different perspective. You get a whole different sense of it.”

His classmate, Christina Crotz, said she valued the experience should would gain from working with mapping technology.

It helps for students to see how they can apply what they learn in high school to a future career, she said.

It might cause them to take their work more seriously, Crotz said.

“Anything that someone puts their time and heart into,” she said, “has to be important.”


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