Wildlife Watch: Vt. Fish & Wildlife ‘Scat and Tracks Program’ partners with educators

Published: Jan. 18, 2022 at 3:37 PM EST
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CASTLETON, Vt. (WCAX) - To help get students outside into nature’s classroom, Vermont Fish and Wildlife has partnered with schools in every corner of the state to help kids learn what’s in their backyards.

With some fresh snow on the ground, Vermont Fish and Wildlife education specialist Corey Hart says it’s a good time to get out and explore nature. “You can track animals year-round, but definitely with snow on the ground it’s a lot easier to find evidence of them

On a short walk at the Green Mountain Conservation Camp in Castleton, we spot our first set of tracks. “So, looking at it, my guess would be chipmunk or squirrel, but probably chipmunk. “Raccoons waddle, which would explain why their tracks are on top of each other. So, when you are looking for them on snow, it’s quite literally burying the track.”

Hart runs the department’s Scat and Tracks Program. It involves biologists and others calling into classrooms for interactive lessons. “In the morning, I can chat with a school in Bennington and 10 minutes later I’m chatting with Troy,” Hart said.

The program connects with students in kindergarten through 6th grade and goes over four different species in four weeks. There are also pre-recorded sessions, so classes can go at their own pace. “Once they have done the lesson with us, the teacher takes over and takes the students outside and looks for evidence of the species we discussed. So, throughout the presentation, we are talking about the scat, the tracks, and other signs of evidence that the species might be behind in the woods by the school.” Hart said.

The goal, Hart says, is to get students learning while getting outdoors. “They probably don’t realize they are learning but they are, and it’s the beauty of getting them out of the classroom and teaching the material a little different than it normally would be taught,” he said.

Hart says students might not always see the animals they are searching for and that’s ok. It’s about what else they see and learn. “They are also going to be focused on finding the correct habitat -- that’s key. If they find the species or evidence of the species, that’s awesome and we are pumped for those students. But the big takeaway is the different types of habitat the species live in,” he said. “We can talk about habitat in the classroom. It’s another thing to get out and see it. Also, with the younger students, they might not have the understanding of species we have in Vermont, so it’s important for them to get out and see the evidence that they are there.”

Teachers involved in the program agree it has an impact. “It’s great to have another voice and an expert in the classroom, especially for the students,” said Julie Higgins, a third-grade teacher at Crasftbury Elementary School.

“What is exceptional about this program is that my students are able to interact with someone who is so well versed in their chosen field and they are able to take that knowledge and be able to go outside the classroom and be able to use critical thinking skills -- which is so important for my children,” said Christy Nemeth, a first-grade teacher at Troy School. She says it has been especially useful during the pandemic to keep students engaged. “They go out there, they are measuring the tracks, they are talking with their classmates about how amazing it is to be outside. How great it is to take what they learned from Corey and go outside with that information.”

“We come back when we finish and we journey. We tie in our writing and literacy standards to what we are doing and I think that’s important for our kids to see that learning is not just done on a computer,” Higgins said

To register for the program, educators should contact Corey Hart by emailing him at corey.hart@vermont.gov or calling him at 802-505-5562.

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