HATTIESBURG - On
Nov. 4, the GK-12 program at The University of Southern Mississippi,
in conjunction with the Forrest County Agricultural High School,
held a 10 a.m. grand opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony to launch
a new nature trail on the grounds of FCAHS.
"We are very excited and proud of this wonderfully
collaborative effort that will benefit so many students in our communities,"
said Dr. Patricia Springsteen, GK-12 project coordinator, who said
the nature trail was created for educational use.
The trail is named in honor of Helen Barnes, a long-time
teacher at FCAHS and resident of the Brooklyn community, said Kyle
Nobles, superintendent of FCAHS. "Forrest County AHS is pleased
to be a part of such a wonderful learning opportunity for students
from across the Pine Belt," said Nobles. "The University
of Southern Mississippi and the GK-12 fellows have done an outstanding
job developing this trail into something really special. Teachers
and administrators from across the Pine Belt are encouraged to take
advantage of this unique opportunity to enjoy the beauty of nature
while teaching students to love and respect our natural resources."
The GK-12 program, funded by the National Science
Foundation, supports fellowships and associated training that will
enable graduate students in the sciences, mathematics, engineering
and technology to serve as resources in K-12 schools. The GK-12
fellows serve as resources for teachers in science and mathematics
instruction. Expected outcomes of the program include improved communication
and teaching skills for the fellows; enriched learning by K-12 students;
professional development opportunities for K-12 teachers; and strengthened
partnerships between institutions of higher education and local
Graduate fellows in the GK-12 program are Southern
Miss graduate students in mathematics and the sciences (biology,
chemistry-biochemistry, geology, physics and polymer science). This
year, 14 teachers are working with 12 GK-12 fellows in 10 schools,
at eight grade levels (third, fifth, and seventh-12th) from six
school districts in four counties. "It all adds up to a tremendous
educational effort and innovation going on in our communities,"
"The fellows work with teachers to determine
how they can best serve as a creative resource, specifically, to
create lesson plans, activities, demonstrations and full learning
modules that are solidly based on the educational frameworks for
Mississippi and the National Science Education Standards."
Officials of the Southern Miss GK-12 program, who
work with students, teachers, and administrators at the Forrest
County Agricultural High School, consider the new nature trail one
of many positive outcomes. "The trail is actually a major extension
of an existing trail through forested land at the school,"
Springsteen said. "The extension was made possible by building
two bridges, which are quite substantial. Both cross small streams,
and one of the bridges is 38 feet long." She said that work
on the trail included planning and design; blazing and clearing;
a trail clean-up day; and the design and the building of the two
major bridges that made the extension possible.
"A number of students and teachers from FCAHS
have worked hard from the beginning, and it is truly exciting to
see the great things that can come of the collaboration of bright
young minds. Among the classes involved are those of Rodney Clark's
drafting class, Doug Anderson's art class, Mike Dale's agricultural
science class, and the biology classes of Brandon Smith and Amanda
Austin Trousdale, a graduate student in biological
sciences at Southern Miss, is a GK-12 fellow who has taken a leadership
role in this project.
"Having an interpretive science trail on the
school grounds is an opportunity to have easy and ready access to
a research that highlights native flora and fauna and provides an
opportunity for various kinds of environmental monitoring,"
Trousdale said. "For instance, [students] have opportunities
to do hands-on activities regarding things like water quality and
composition of soil. It's an extension of the classroom in that
way because the students can go out into the field and make observations
and collect data, and these can directly relate to what they are
learning in the classroom. We are looking for a way to reinforce
their basic curriculum.
"And it is the intent of the administration of
the Forrest County schools to allow students from other districts
to use this resource as well."
Dr. David Hebert was the GK-12 project coordinator
last year when the trail was blazed and the bridges were built.
The work was funded by the National Science Foundation through a
GK-12 grant led by Dr. Susan Ross.
"The GK-12 program is an exciting program that
has provided many benefits for the participating school districts
and the university," Ross said. "One of the most important
outcomes has been the increased collaboration between and among
the school districts and the university. The nature trail at Forrest
County Agricultural High School will provide an outdoor educational
environment that can be utilized by teachers from all educational
levels for years to come.
"This is a direct example of the sustainability
of GK-12 and exemplifies the underlying philosophy of the program."
After passing the main school entrance on the right,
visitors are asked to pass the second entrance on the right and
take the next right between the softball field and the soccer field,
where parking is located. The trail head is marked by a large sign.
After the ceremony, GK-12 graduate fellows conducted
activities along the trail with students and attendees interested
in learning more about what the trail has to offer, including trail
mapping with a GPS system, a system to learn about and monitor ground
water using piezometers; learning about the chemistry in the streams
as well as the wildlife that lives there; and identifying and understanding
the effects of invasive plants. A scavenger hunt with prizes followed.
For more information about the program, call (601)
266-4743 or visit www.nsf.gov/home/crssprgm/gk12.