Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Field Notes Entry   
Big Muddy National Fish and Wildlife RefugeReaches Out to At-Risk Students
Midwest Region, October 29, 2008
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Yesterday was another very good day at work. It was one of those perfect fall days, clear sunny skies, crisp air and 65 degrees. I would be spending a couple of hours with a group of high school students, who had come to the Big Muddy National Fish and Wildlife Refuge to plant some prairie cordgrass, next to a small wetland.


The rest of the story: We have entered into a partnership with Frederick Douglas High School (an alternative school, in Columbia, Missouri for "at risk" kids) and the University of Missouri. The refuge serves as the outdoor classroom, and provides a few ideas and a few hours of staff time. Professors Mark Morgan and Charles Nilon from The University of Missouri, secured funding for the project through grants. A graduate student (Bryan Danford), creates lesson plans related to natural history, the environment and American history and coordinates the logistics with the refuge and the teachers. Columbia Public Schools provide the students, teachers and transportation.


As the little bus stopped on the gravel road, the students slowly got off and began milling around. At first, there was a bit of chaos, some apathy and plenty of attitude. There were two teachers (John Reid and Angela Waller) and seven students, not your typical student/teacher ratio. We gathered in a circle, as I started to explain the day’s plan “Everyone get a shovel, a pair of rubber boots, and pair of gloves, then we will walk out to the planting site.” That’s when the whining began. “I ain't wearing those, this is stupid, are there snakes?, bugs? spiders?. I ain’t walking through all those weeds and s--t! Don't take my picture lookin like this, not in these boots and gloves!”


After a 20 minute hike through tall grass, weeds, vines and even a little poison ivy, we reached our destination. I had staged the 50 pants (each in a one gallon pot), at the edge of the wetland the previous day. I took a minute to demonstrate how to plant these clumps of grass and how to select and prepare a planting spot. The demonstration was followed by more whining about mud, bugs, and being scratched by plants. Next, we began working and soon they were into it. Students began telling each other how to do it (plant the prairie cordgrass right), seeing who could plant the most, bringing each other fresh gloves(“ooh these are wet and muddy”),and picking up the empty pots and stacking them for the walk back to the bus. Somewhere in the middle of all this, the questions began, “can we take a plant back for the school garden ?”, “what kind of bird is that"?, “hey check this bug, what kind is it?” "how come these cordgrasses used to be here when the Indians were here, but now we gotta plant em?"


On the walk back to the bus, the students took the lead. “Hey, what about all those snakes and bugs?” asked Mr. Reid. “It’s cool” someone answered. The teachers thanked Bryan and I for our time, and commented about what a huge thing it was to leave the school campus, leave the city, walk through the weeds, and get muddy). They said "without you, we would have never gotten them off the road. You just took off, expecting them to follow, and they were not going to let you down or let you see their fear.”


P.S. Since this first outing, we have hosted a field day for water quality sampling (along with staff from the Missouri Department of Conservation) and a field day for fishing,

Contact Info: Tim Haller, 573-441-2799, tim_haller@fws.gov
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