Walk on the wild side at Wellington Middle School

Sometimes just walking near a school building provides an education. The west side of Wellington Middle School provides a prime example. You won’t channel new knowledge via some kind of brick-and-mortar osmosis but you — liked WMS students — may learn about many of the furry creatures that scurry around Wellington when you’re not around.

Science teacher Vicky Jordan and Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife district wildlife manager Susan Howard placed and spaced animal trackways in the sidewalk to tell stories that visitors and students can read and interpret.

Sixth grade students recently used the tracks during a lesson on “observation and inference.” They had to answer questions like “What creatures made these tracks?” and “What happened here?”

“We are hopeful that English teachers might have students write stories based on the tracks. All the species are native to Colorado, and most can be found in or around Wellington, so we are also planning on using this when we teach adaptations and ecosystems,” Jordan said. “We also hope to raise community awareness about wildlife in our neighborhood and in Colorado, since many people use our sidewalks now as a thoroughfare.”

Jordan worked for the Division of Wildlife before she became a teacher, so it was natural to think about that resource when she needed to have tracks made accurately and when the cement was being poured during the workday.

“It seemed like an opportunity not to be missed,” said Howard, who used her dad’s 1954 Olaus Murie “Field Guide to Animal Tracks” to set up some predator/prey interactions correctly. “The cement was drying pretty quickly and some of the tracks came out very faint or incomplete,” she said, “but I think that helps add to the mystery, and is also realistic as most animals don’t leave us a perfect track story in real life.”

Part of the funding for this project came from Poudre School District’s Innovation Grant, “which we have been fortunate to receive four times,” WMS principal Alicia Durand said. “Vicky has been adamant about the Wellington Wildlife Walk, as I am calling it.”

More stories may yet be told, since one sidewalk remains to be poured. Eventually, Jordan plans to create some laminated track posters that will help explain the tales for others meandering down the path near the school.

It’s always good to make learning a life long experience and — in this case, at least — students, teachers and the community at large can learn more about the often hidden, but very necessary, natural world revealed, in part, by the tracks left behind by secretive animal visitors. “We protect what we understand,” Jordan said.

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