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For the past month, fourth-graders at Fox Creek Elementary have spent two hours a week studying a portion of the Backcountry Wilderness Area, 8,200 acres of conservation land that borders the southern edge of Highlands Ranch.
They look at temperatures, measure footprints, collect what animals leave behind, like a feather, and compare ecosystems.
“When the students come out,” said AnnaKate Hein, camp director of the Backcountry Wilderness Area, “they are expected to be scientists.”
The partnership between the Highlands Ranch school and the Highlands Ranch Community Association, which manages the Backcountry Wilderness Area, is three years strong. Different this year, students requested to participate in a service-learning project, where they will put what they have learned to use.
To raise money for the project, Fox Creek students hosted a hot chocolate stand at Haunted Forest, a popular event in October organized by HRCA. Backcountry staff expected students — 15 kids on each of the two nights — to bring in $100. They profited upward of $500.
Hein and her team members at the Backcountry are finalizing details of the project, which will be carried out the week before Thanksgiving. Options include constructing bluebird houses in the open space or protecting Ponderosa trees from elk. Leftover money will go to the Backcountry Conservation and Education Fund, used to protect wildlife habitat and provide outdoor education and recreation opportunities in the Backcountry.
Backcountry staff hopes the Fox Creek partnership will have a lasting impact on students.
They also hope to develop more partnerships with schools and businesses in the region. “Science isn’t always about having the right answer,” Hein said.
“Our big goal is to keep kids questioning.”
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