Niobrara County gals are leaders in resource education
Lusk — At the prompting of local ranch woman and community leader Linda Kruse, Niobrara County began offering agriculture education in its schools in the early 1990s.
Linda passed away in 1996, but one can imagine she’d be pleased with the growth of her original idea and the numerous students who have benefitted from the program. Under the direction of JoAnn Wade with the Natural Resources Conservation Service and Lisa Shaw and Heidi Sturman with the Niobrara County Conservation, Lusk students have an opportunity to learn about natural resources on many occasions from elementary school to high school.
“We thought in the beginning we needed to focus on the bigger towns, but we soon realized we needed to focus on Lusk,” says Wade.
“We had teachers really interested in doing this,” says Sturman. Shaw says ranchers are equally excited about hosting classes from the local schools.
Originally focusing on agriculture, Wade says, “We got where we approached it from a natural resource angle instead. It fit the standards and the curriculum better.”
That willingness to adjust has kept the partnership between the resource professionals and the school strong for nearly 15 years. Shaw says the program has evolved. It’s also kept the attention of area teachers who see students connecting what they learn in the field to career opportunities.
“We’ve refined it,” says Wade. “In the beginning we tried to cover everything and it’s just too much. Now we try to focus on some basic things to keep it targeted to standards.” Watching the gals work together in the field is like clockwork. They each have the topics they teach at different levels and have become very comfortable with the students.
Most recently they hosted first through seventh graders for World Water Monitoring Day. The eighth grade class has also been working with the NRCS and the District on a water project.
“We started several years ago,” says Sturman, “when the science teacher wanted to do a stream profile project. The kids go out and do physical measurements, test the water qualify and look at the aquatic insects. They take all of that back to the classroom and they draw an aerial view of the stream and a profile view of the stream. It’s drawn to scale and they hang the big picture up in their hallway.” While working on the project the students identify the insects and the plants they encounter.
“Almost every class does something besides World Water Monitoring Day,” says Shaw. For fifth graders, it’s a visit to a local ranch and a discussion on everything from insects to tree height. A series of classroom discussions and learning opportunities lead up to the daylong field trip.
Area third and fourth graders visit Fort Hat Creek, where they learn about natural resources as well as area history.
“It varies with the grade and whether they’re learning about the life cycle or predator and prey relationships,” says Sturman.
With the growing demands on educators, Wade says it has taken devoted teachers to keep the program successful. “They have to be really committed to make sure they get this worked into the classroom,” she says.
It requires an equal level of commitment from Wade, Shaw and Sturman, who spent over 30 days in the field with local students last year. “It’s the excitement of the kids,” they respond when asked what’s kept them devoted to the project.
“That first year,” recalls Wade, “Linda had some real arms to twist to get us to do it, but you see such a need for it. From what you figure out the kids don’t know to what you read about in the paper, people just don’t understand agriculture and natural resources.” For the past 15 years, however, Lusk students have left high school with a greater appreciation for both natural resources and the people who manage them.
Jennifer Womack is a staff writer for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.