Klahowya environmental science class takes a hike

Julie Turk takes her environmental science class on a hike through the Newberry Hill Heritage Park on Friday. - Photo by Wes Morrow
Julie Turk takes her environmental science class on a hike through the Newberry Hill Heritage Park on Friday.
— image credit: Photo by Wes Morrow

Julie Turk stands in front of 12 students as she talks to them about water levels and salmon spawning. The subject matter is pretty much what you would expect for an environmental science class like the one Turk teaches at Klahowya Secondary School.

Except Turk happens to be standing in six inches of mud and water. Her classroom hasn't flooded. It has just moved outside.

Every Friday Turk takes her class on hikes through the Newberry Hill Heritage Park, a 1,600 acre forest in which Klahowya is located. Today they're looking for two of about six crest gauges throughout the park that measure water depth.

The class created the gauges in December and park stewards placed them in January. One of the two gauges is placed at a spot in the park called Beaver Crossing -- a sort of swamp stretches out along one side of the path, and a small creek from the runoff trails off to the other side.

Earlier in the winter, Turk and her students spent time here searching out macro-invertebrates, insects that can be seen without a microscope. While the class found an abundance of life in winter, Turk said the area known as Beaver Crossing was bone-dry in fall, just a few months prior.

As the class winds its way through the woods, Turk points out arboreal anomalies to her students, often quizzing them on their forest knowledge.

"What kind of tree is this?" Turk asks a group of students on the trail.

A brunette girl behind her takes up the call, "Douglas Fir."

For the class's first semester final exam Turk took them out on a two-hour circuit in the trees, administering a non-traditional verbal exam during the hike.

"I think everybody's excited to get out of the classroom sometimes," Turk says as we walked leisurely along in a rare spot of February sun.

Lately, her environmental science class has been able to get out for more than just learning. They're finalists in Samsung's Solve for Tomorrow contest, for which they made a video about their work outdoors.

More than 1,500 educators around the country submitted essays answering the challenge, "Show how science and math can help the environment in your community."

When Turk's class was selected as one of 75 finalists Samsung mailed them a laptop, camcorder and editing software to produce a video about their proposal.

They spent the holidays working on their project: shooting, editing and producing a video. Heather Kimball and Kelleigh Coppinger contributed their media editing experience from other classes.

"We did the best we could, and I think it turned out great," Turk says. "I'm proud of them."

Turk talks to her class on Friday prior to leading them out into the park for a hike.Turks' class spent time researching salmon spawning, hoping to make it possible for the native fish to return to areas in the park they've recently been shut out of because of culvert placement.

On Feb. 4 Samsung posted their video on YouTube and announced them as one of 15 finalists. Simply by virtue of making it to the final round, they earned Klahowya $40,000 in technology from Samsung, Adobe and DirecTV.

Now their video stands among 14 others on Samsung's website, where it has a chance to win the school a $110,000 grant. Five videos will be announced as grand prize winners on March 5.

The finalist schools are divided into three categories: rural, suburban and urban. One winner will be chosen from each category based on the school's message, project and video quality. But there are two more ways to win.

A fourth winner will be chosen by a panel of judges picked out by Samsung, Adobe and DirecTV, and a fifth and final winner will be chosen based on public voting on Samsung's website.

If Klahowya wins, Samsung will fly an administrator, teacher and two students to Washington D.C. to accept the prize. Turk says she isn't assuming any sort of victory, but if they do win, they'll have to figure out who to send.

They're going to hold an essay contest, she says, where each student in the class will nominate themselves or a friend and write about why that person should represent the class in D.C.

One para-educator at the school excitedly approaches me to talk about the environmental science class.

"In the beginning, I don't think anybody really realized how cool it was going to be," she saiys.

It's hard to guess how people felt when Klahowya started its environmental science program, but students, teachers and Samsung seem to agree now: Turk's environmental science class really is cool.


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