Amy Schmer has never seen her class quite like this. Amy is a sixth-grade science teacher at Preston Middle School in Fort Collins, Colo., where she and her students are participating in a unique wildlife research project in conjunction with nearby Sylvan Dale Ranch, an historic working horse and cattle ranch in Loveland. David Neils, director of the International Telementor Program, an academic project-based mentoring program that matches students with real-world professionals, arranged for the multi-year, project-based association to take place between the school and the ranch. How did he do it? He simply asked the ranch owners and they said yes.
“We now have 3,000+ acres on which to conduct science research,” says David. “This is a dream come true for me. I’ve been looking for an opportunity where students are tackling real wildlife issues, improving wildlife habitat, and collaborating with real professionals every step of the way. That dream is now a reality thanks to the ranch owners and many others who have stepped up to the plate.”
The students have now installed the ranch’s first wildlife guzzler—a stock water tank for wildlife. Sixth graders were literally swinging pick axes and setting up fixed movement-triggered cameras to document their studies. A few weeks later they already had their first thirsty visitor (check out more videos and photos here).
When David visits the classroom, he says, there are never less than five hands in the air at a time. “It’s electric,” he says. “Students thrive when they’re learning math and science in a way that makes a difference. This kind of learning will be something they remember for the rest of their lives.”
From a teacher’s perspective, Amy’s class is working on real science projects in collaboration with professionals in the workplace who are mentoring them through the secure, web-based messaging system provided through the International Telementor Program. Students are getting help beyond their teacher and their parents from concerned professionals who are listening to what they have to say and guiding them forward in more depth than possible through the usual route.
Amy shares more of her thoughts here:
Personal Traction: How’d you hear about the program?
Amy: I heard about the program while teaching a class with David Neils [David is the Founder and Director of the International Telementor Program].
Personal Traction: What prompted you to get involved?
Amy: I got involved because I knew that this was a one of a kind opportunity for me and my students. I knew that I wanted my students to do something special and this was what I was looking for.
Personal Traction: How does it support your teaching goals?
Amy: One of my goals was for my science students to do more writing, and they are doing a ton of writing in Science class. They are also hearing from their mentors that it does not matter what area you go into after school, you will have to know how to read and write.
Personal Traction: What have been the value and benefits of the program for you/your students?
Amy: The mentors. The mentors give so much time to my students that I could not give them. The students are learning about collaboration and time management. When I ask that an assignment be looked at twice by your mentor before turning it in, the 6th graders know that they need to manage their time wisely. They can not wait until the last second for their mentor to give them feedback. This is a piece of information that I could not teach without this program. Also, my students now have connections outside of Preston in a field that they are highly involved in.
Personal Traction: What are some highlights in working with the mentoring program/mentors?
Amy: I have many highlights….The feedback the mentors give is amazing. The time the mentors give is astounding. The quality of the messages that the mentors write is wonderful. It really gives the students an example that writing and communicating after their school years is still important. The mentors really take the time to get to know their student. I get many emails from mentors asking about their student. How they are, how can they help them, Are they staying on task, and many, many more questions.
Personal Traction: What are your thoughts on education these days?
Amy: I know that the students at Preston Middle School are getting to do things that I never got to do even in college. The students at Preston are working very hard and love coming to school.
Personal Traction: Anything else you care to say or add about the mentoring program?
Amy: I have felt supported all the way!
CAMERA, ACTION! “We set up the first camera on Friday morning,” says David. “Friday night we had our first thirsty visitor.” Have a look at two bears as well as a mountain lion.
PICTURE THIS. Check out all 93 photos of the Preston Middle School Wildlife Project.