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Branch out

By Staff
HJHS uses nature trail as outdoor classroom
Tracy B. Cieniewicz, Hartselle Enquirer
Water quality, microorganisms, and plants and animals are fun things for any student to experiment with in a lab, but in the wild, those experiments can prove to be even more educational and exciting.
For the third consecutive year, Hartselle Junior High School sixth grade science students, under the direction of HJHS science teacher Debi Smith, have been developing a nature trail for the community and an outdoor classroom for students at Hartselle's Tabernacle.
"It's a community service," Smith said. "The students are doing something that benefits others, not just themselves because this facility will be used by other classes in the community."
Smith said outdoor classroom students will learn to identify, protect, and enhance the development of many local plant and animal species. Also, through guided personal outdoor experiences, students will become aware of their environment and learn how their decisions affect the environment for good or bad.
"Much of our wilderness area is being misused or destroyed for various reasons," Smith said. " As a result, many of our native plants are disappearing. Kids have got to learn to appreciate it before they want to protect it."
Much of the students' appreciation has stemmed from hands-on experience during the development of the nature trail and outdoor classroom. Students have trimmed privet, cleared brush, and filled holes during three workdays this semester.
"At some point, they may be faced with a decision regarding building in an area that has native plants," Smith said. "If they recognize these, the plants can be moved before the construction begins."
Smith said students are also learning the importance of topsoil conservation, water quality testing, compost, and recycling.
The Hartselle Street Department collected one and one-half tons of privet to be used as compost during the last workday.
"The city of Hartselle has been great in helping to make our outdoor classroom a success," Smith said. "They have provided poles for our bridge projects, leaves to cover newly filled holes, and debris pickup for compost and recycling. They come as soon as I call."
Morgan County master gardeners, HJHS junior master gardeners, and local Eagle Scouts have also contributed to the project.
"So little wilderness is left," Smith said. "It is important to set aside areas for kids and future generations to enjoy. We truly appreciate every contribution that has been made to this project."
The Birmingham Botanical Gardens is loaning a tree marker to Smith's class this spring. Native plants will be reintroduced to the area and marked as well. The class also plans to do tree identification this fall and several area teachers are scheduled to attended a wilderness conservation workshop to learn how to use the area and incorporate its resources into various academics. A third bridge will be completed this year.
In conjunction with Morgan County Recycling, Clean City, Hartselle Utilities, the Soil and Water Conservation Department, and the city of Hartselle, Smith's students will also participate in Earth Day 2003 on April 11 with sewage treatment and wetland demonstrations.
"Our science class may be messy sometimes," Smith said, "but it's a lot of fun."