School uses trail cams to teach nature class in Salisbury

SALISBURY — Vermont has long been defined by its natural beauty. Many live in and amongst Vermont’s hills and dales, reveling in the blessings that come in the form of wildlife. Vermonters choose to live here because they value forest connectivity and a lifestyle where the separation of society and wildlife habitat is blurred.
Amy Clapp and her 3-6th grade science classes at Salisbury Elementary School celebrated this connection to the natural world with the Moosalamoo Center at Otter Valley Union High School, a long-time outdoor and environmental class led by Josh Hardt.
Environmental education has long been appreciated in rural Vermont schools. Bringing authentic field-based outdoor lessons to the mainstream within Vermont schools highlights the pertinence of this subject matter and celebrates the unique natural landscape we have in rural Vermont.
With a grant from the Otter Creek Chapter of the Audubon Society, Clapp and Hardt orchestrated a four-part wildlife monitoring collaboration between the students of their respective schools.
The idea was to give voice to these communities’ love of the natural world by defining a specific landscape in an ecological sense. They incorporated land use history, wildlife schematics, and current conservation-based topics, used hands-on science and actual immersion into the woods and participated in a unique mentorship between both age groups and school districts.
Natural communities on both schools’ lands were chosen as study sites, and the books “Wetland Woodland Wildland” by Eric Sorenson and Beth Thompson and Amy Clapp’s “Naturally Literate: a Checklist for the Beginner Naturalist,” served as guides for the project. Students then hypothesized as to the wildlife that might be found within that community. 
Using trail cameras from the OCAS and the Salisbury Conservation Commission, students guessed where animals would be traveling, set cameras up and left them for a week. Students used the 240 acre Hawk Hill Preserve behind Otter Valley High School as well as the forest land that is part of the Salisbury Elementary School campus. Both schools had outdoor classrooms, complete with campfires and snacks.
 “We found rabbit scat, bobcat rubbings, deer tracks. We saw signs of animals eating beech nuts, we observed these habitats and made predictions of what we would see on the game cameras,” Salisbury sixth graders said. Students captured images of Eastern coyotes, beaver, mink, white tailed deer, and a bobcat. Although some of these animals are seldom seen, these images reinforced how valuable and unique the forest lands in Vermont are, even directly on their school campuses. 

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