The coordination of a middle school science teacher has given Roswell students an opportunity to experience the world in a new light at the Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge.
“They don’t think this is science, but it is,” said Berrendo Middle School teacher Jessica Sanders. “I think this opens doors for them, and then this also keeps kids wanting to graduate.”
With the assistance of other Berrendo teachers and the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, five different stations were offered to an estimated 230 students, placing them in a situation quite close to the department’s reality.
“This is a chance for students to really experience hands on learning in the outdoors in field investigations,” said New Mexico Game and Fish conservation education coordinator Kevin Holladay. “It’s so great to be out here with these students where we can have a chance to put into a really fun learning activity.”
Holladay said the department tried to convey basic concepts about Bitter Lake’s wildlife, along with how it’s managed, and the importance of conservation on both state and federal refuges.
“It’s a chance for students to come to their backyards and see some of the wildlife that are here like the snow geese, sandhill cranes, ibises, many different species of ducks,” he said. “This is an incredible local wildlife resource for Roswell.”
The educator also added that the second-annual field trip offered the opportunity to inspire students to pursue careers within wildlife and STEM fields.
“The fishery’s aspect, the aquatic insects, the birdwatching, the use of binoculars to monitor and observe wildlife,” Holladay listed off. “They’re gaining not only the skills necessary to become successful in the STEM field but also to hopefully inspire a conservation ethic and a love of the outdoors that will carry them into the future to the rest of their life.”
Sanders, describing the stations, said students were able to practice random sampling from the areas minnows, as well as identify different types of small invertebrates with a macroscope.
“Some of the kids were blown away by this entire experience,” Sanders said. “They’ve never been out here — they’ve never gotten down and dirty in this kind of science.”
Sanders also told of the station she was involved in with Game and Fish’s George Farmer.
“That was our scavenger-nature hike and that was about identifying different species of native plant life to this area,” she said. “Students were able to identify fourwing saltbush, they were able to identify Christmas cactus, grama grass — different kinds of native species.
“We also talked about adaptations. Another station done by corporal Tyson Sanders was the birding activity where students used binoculars, which, for most kids, was their first time using binoculars, and then they had a bird identification book, so they were able to spot animals using the binoculars, and then reference the text to see and identify this field guide with what they had seen.”
Processes like photosynthesis, cellular respiration, asexual reproduction and seed disbursement all tied into what students had experienced at the refuge, Sanders said.
“(We’re) making those connections from what we’ve taken and done in the classroom, and applying them into real life situations,” she said. “This particular field trip ends up being a jump-off point for us and our ecology study for the rest of the school year — we will refer back to this many times.”
Holladay, on behalf of New Mexico Game and Fish, said the department is proud to be a key partner with the National Wildlife Refuge and Berrendo Middle School staff.
“Especially Jessica Sanders who spearheaded this,” Holladay added. “We hope to continue it next year as well.”
Sanders said she thinks the memories made Wednesday will instill a further interest within the wildlife scene in Roswell.
“They remember the names of these game wardens — they remember the names of the scientists and the biologists out here,” Sanders said. “This is one of my most favorite field trips we do all school year. I love to see the ‘aha moments’ of kids getting it.”
Multimedia-Crime reporter Trevier Gonzalez can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.