AVA, IL (KFVS) - Mark Twain National Forest is partnering with the Ava Middle School to connect almost 100 sixth grade students to the surrounding National Forest through outdoor education.
The students' curriculum includes education on various ecosystems, focusing on biotic and a biotic factors, energy flow through ecosystems and human impacts to ecosystem function.
Since this part of the Forest is home to one of the highest concentrations of dolomite glade natural communities in the world, the focus of the partnership is to bring real-world, scientific experience to the students, complementing the Ava School District's sixth grade science curriculum.
Ava/Cassville/Willow Springs (ACW) Ranger District staff have been working with the Ava School District's science teacher to formulate educational material specific to glade ecosystems that corresponds with the format of their curriculum.
Through classroom learning and field trips, students are learning about the components and features of glade ecosystems.
In addition, students are learning the management techniques the Forest Service uses to restore and maintain healthy glade ecosystems.
Seeing the glade restoration process firsthand is strengthening the students' understanding of this curriculum and of lessons learned from past Forest Service management successes and mistakes of a very special ecosystem in the students' backyard.
In addition to scientific lessons, the students are gaining an understanding of the connection between forest management, forest products, and local economies.
"Kids deserve the chance to connect with nature and learn from that experience," District Ranger Joe Koloski stated. "This partnership is giving local kids an opportunity to apply concepts they are learning in a classroom setting to public lands in their own back yard."
The ACW Ranger District has been actively engaged in restoring and maintaining healthy glade communities since the 1970s through cedar removal and application of prescribed fire, especially along Glade Top Trail (a National Forest Scenic Byway).
Glade Top Trail has been selected as a Forest Service Top Ten Nature Watch site and District staff are working with Forest Service staff in Washington, D.C. on the development of a web-based story map highlighting the area.
Additionally, Caney Picnic Area (along Glade Top Trail) was selected in 2016 as a Discovery Agents mobile game mission site; and visitors to Caney Picnic Area now have the ability to participate in this fun and educational experience.
The students have already visited a managed glade. The Forest Service also provided electronic devices for the students to play the Discovery Agents game while in the field at Caney Picnic Area, using technology as a tool to get kids closer to nature.
The students have one more trip scheduled to go with Forest Service personnel to visit a glade that has not been managed with prescribed fire.
This site visit will allow them to apply what they have learned to identify reduced plant diversity and reduced supportive habitat composition in the area, which will bring home the point that prescribed fire is more than just a useful tool—the plants and animals in the glade need it.