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Released November 04, 2004

By Angela Cutrer

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 school districts.

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," Springsteen added.

"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 Powell.

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


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November 23, 2004 4:06 PM