- Associated Press - Sunday, February 8, 2015

KINGSFORD, Mich. (AP) - Six eighth-grade students from Kingsford Middle School were given an unique opportunity to go and study animals and plants on Isle Royale this past fall

They were chosen to be a part of a youth scientist program at Isle Royale National Park after being a part of the Isle Royal Educational Program the previous year as seventh-graders.

The experiences were vastly different as they learned firsthand how scientists study in the wild, according to The Daily News of Iron Mountain ( https://bit.ly/1I1CCL5 ).

They worked with Ranger Valerie Martin as well as two scientists on the island gathering data and using a variety of equipment as well as their senses to complete their projects.

They may have left as students, but they returned as youth scientists and leaders ready to share their experiences and knowledge with many different age groups.

The youth scientists are Matt Moreau, Tori Kowalkowski, Luke Terrian, Valerie Caylor, Olivia Allen and August Early.

Teachers Dan Carey and Jim Myllya went along with the students, which also included a group of 25 seventh-graders involved in the program on the island.

Principal Dave Holmes said that the trip is organized and made possible for the students by Bill Harris, owner of Renewable World Energy, which has hydroelectric plants like United Kiser in Norway.

Harris provides this opportunity to six different schools including locally KMS and Vulcan Middle School in Norway. This was the third year that KMS students were invited and the first year that they invited back students to become youth scientists.

“We usually receive more than 50 applications to go and have to narrow that down to 25 seventh graders. The youth scientist program takes it to the next level as they work directly with the park service,” Holmes said.

He added that once the group was back to school, they showed leadership and had the opportunity with this deeper knowledge of the island to share with other students and adults.

The youth scientists have been working on putting together a video from their experiences and had a family dinner to make a presentation to their parents and family members. It was also a time to thank their sponsor, Bill Harris. Another presentation on the program will be given in April.

“It’s a more basic level of learning about the island as seventh-graders,” said student Tori Kowalkowski. “But as a youth scientist, it’s more advanced in the areas of science, technology and engineering. We also learned life lessons while we were there that we can take into the future. We were responsible for our own campsite and all the work that goes along with that.”

Before leaving, the youth scientists met with Ranger Valerie Martin to prepare for the trip.

“The reason we get invited back again to the program is that our school sends quality kids. It also reflects back on the program we run here at KMS,” Holmes said.

“When we got to the island we did science-related work like bat viewing using night vision technology, a snake survey, and we used telemetry to locate wolves that are wearing radio collars,” Matt Moreau said.

And the work the students did has been recorded and will be kept for future scientists at the island, Tori said.

One of the main differences between the two years at Isle Royale, Olivia noted, was that they had little free time when they were there as youth scientists. “We were always on the go experiencing something about the island or involved in some activity with the scientists. We were very busy all the time.”

Valerie agreed. “Any free time we had was spent journaling what we did that day. We also had reports to do when we got back.”

“We barely stayed at camp. We packed our lunches and took off for the day returning at night. We also blogged every night about our experiences,” Tori added.

One of the activities that August enjoyed was using remotely operated vehicle subs with a camera on top to see under water as they were looking for zebra mussels. In the area they looked, they didn’t find any.

“One of the scientists also had us doing a snake survey. We looked for snakes and had to write down if they were male or female, had scales on it or how it looked. A garter snake - 49 centimeters - was the biggest. We also saw copper bellies and garter snakes with all or most being babies,” August said.

The group of youth scientists, when studying various plants, marked them using GPS. They counted how many plants every five meters and August said they learned a lot with that project.

A service project that they were involved on the island was to cut thistles by taking off the purple tops of the plant. Tori noted that she did 153 thistles in 20 minutes.

Luke added that they had hiked a trail to the Minong Ridge and after stopping at the top, they were involved in the service project and pulled thistles, an invasive plant, in teams of three.

Highlights of the trip for Valerie included the hike up Minong Ridge and going to Washington Island as well as learning to use telemetry.

“At all the high places, like Minong Ridge, we used telemetry to sweep back and forth listening for beeps to see if we could locate one of the wolves with the radio collars. But we didn’t hear a signal - we may not have been high enough or something was in the way,” Luke said.

He added that one morning getting ready for breakfast they did hear a wolf howl.

A big part of the group’s activities since getting back from Isle Royale has been preparing different programs and making presentations. Tori said that is something she had never done before, but has learned how to speak in front of people.

“I agree. It’s improved my speaking ability and we also had to learn how to work together,” Olivia added.

Holmes said he was impressed with the different presentations they have made, especially speaking before about 50 teachers from different areas during an in-service.

“It was a quality effort at collaboration on their part and they presented the information well. I’m pleased they tried it and did well. We received feedback that the teachers that attended that session were also impressed with the students and the presentation.”

Carey agreed. “The students took the bull by the horn and did an outstanding job making their presentation before different groups - from second-graders, to fifth-graders, middle school students and even teachers. They have gained a real sense of confidence in what they can do.”

He added that their work on the island was also exceptional. For example, when identifying different plants, a botanist worked with them and the students learned what they needed to know within a day.

“They picked it up so fast. They worked at a continuous pace analyzing different things and then recording the information,” he said.

Carey noted that a grant paid for this experience that allowed the students to go back as youth scientists. If they want to do this again in the future, it may require some fund-raising.

“It’s an amazing opportunity for these youth scientists to do scientific work from the time they get up in the morning to the time they go to bed that night,” Carey added.

Each of the students felt that their experience as youth scientists is something that they will take with them into the future.

“I liked that we were all individuals and had our own differences, but we were able to come together as one to complete the work. After this experience, I am apt to take more science classes in high school,” Tori said.

“It’s science in real life. You are looking at and identifying plants that are right there in front of you and not pictures in a book,” Valerie added.

Carey said that the highest compliment to the students was that the scientists they worked with as well as the ranger respected the work they did and appreciated their enthusiasm.

“They really enjoyed our students there - and these six students have set the bar high for any future youth scientists on the island,” Carey said.

Holmes agreed. “They learned responsibility, leadership and life skills and I’m very proud of the way they handled themselves. They were very appreciative of being able to go to the island to do this and represented our school well. I hope this is something that continues in the future.”


Information from: The Daily News, https://www.ironmountaindailynews.com

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