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La Pine students learn about amphibians 

Work to improve quality of wetlands near their school

A few weeks back, Jay Bowerman of the Sunriver Nature Center and Observatory took one the center's interns, an Oregon Spotted frog, and a few other frogs, toads and salamanders on the road.

He and intern Raven McLahlan, 11, introduced third and fifth graders at La Pine Elementary to the world of Central Oregon's amphibians. Bess Ballantine and Colleen Fox, of the non-profitWolftree in Sisters, were also on hand to help Jay and Raven.

This was the first part of a two-part program that fifth grade teacher Anna Bajorek and third grade teacher Lauren VanCoutren put together to teach their classes about the amphibians living in the wetlands near their school.

For the first part, Jay and Raven taught the classes about amphibians. For the second part, the fifth graders were able to participate in a hands-on conservation project in the wetlands behind the school with the help of Jay, Raven, Ballantine, Fox, and other Wolftree mentors and volunteers from the USFS, BLM and USFWL.

As it is with almost every bright idea, it takes money to make it reality.

In this case, Wolftree turned to the Gray Family Fund to contribute the money necessary to get the fifth graders out of the classroom and into the field for a full day of learning.

The Gray Family Fund's Environmental Education Program focuses on creating a strong local land ethic in children. They also work to build sustainable communities and stewardship of the natural environment throughout Oregon. The fund has distributed grants around the state to support school-based outdoor and environmental programs.

The Oregon Community Foundation, a statewide nonprofit working to improve life in Oregon and promote effective philanthropy, oversees the distribution of the Gray Family Fund money. The foundation has an office in Bend where the staff work with individuals and businesses to create charitable funds to support community causes. Through these funds, OCF awarded more than $86 million in grants and scholarships in 2011.

But back to the frogs. As Jay and Raven were driving back to the Sunriver Nature Center after their day of teaching students about amphibians, Jay suggested she write the following article about her part in the program. I've chosen to reprint it here so you can understand how important programs like these are to the learning of all students involved.

"On Tuesday, Oct. 16, Jay Bowerman and I went to La Pine Elementary School. We went there to teach third and fifth grade classes about amphibians.  As we left from my house in Sunriver, I climbed into the jump seat in the back of Jay's truck with my Bull Frog in a box at my feet. As we drove away I worried about the Long-Toed Salamander, Oregon Spotted Frogs, Spadefoot Toad, Western Toad, and Pacific Tree Frog that were stacked back in the windy, open truck bed.

"Fortunately, when we arrived at the school the amphibians were fine, although they seemed scared. We carried the animals in and checked into the office and headed for the fifth grade class. We met some Wolftree people in the classroom and we began the program. 

"First, Jay explained the classification of living things to the students as they sat at their desks and then he began describing Long-Toed Salamanders. After that he asked a Wolftree volunteer to walk around the class with the Spade-Foot Toad while I showed my Bull Frog to each student. Most of them wanted to feel his slimy legs, but there were a few students who were horrified at how huge and disgusting they found him to be.

"In the meantime Jay explained the Oregon Spotted Frogs' sensitive populations, how their feet help them swim in the water, and how to use their red bellies to identify them. The Wolftree volunteers helped show the remaining amphibians to the class.

"Next, we walked to the third grade class and Jay introduced our lesson by asking the students: "Can you name a habitat that doesn't have an animal living in it?" The students couldn't think of a habitat until one boy guessed that nothing lives in a cloud! We concluded that its very unlikely that there is a habitat on Earth that doesn't have life in it. From there we worked together to share the amphibians with the class similar to the fifth grade class.

"By volunteering with Jay on Tuesday, I learned that Spade-Foot Toads actually have a spade on their foot, and why Long-Toed Salamanders have such long toes!

When we were done, I crawled back into the jump-seat and I let my Bull Frog ride in the truck bed knowing that he would be okay when we got home!

"Thursday, Oct. 18 found Anna's fifth grade students and Wolftree crew assembled in the wetlands where they conducted studies of two beaver dams on the tiny creek, collected trash, measured the oxygen content of the creek, counted macro invertebrates, and searched for the rare and endangered Oregon Spotted Frog in the wetlands."

Raven McLahlan, 11, is a Sunriver Nature Center & Observatory intern. Here she shows LaPine Elementary third and fifth graders the pestiferous American Bullfrog.


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