Students in Dominique Montano’s middle school class turned their education over to the birds — and to the bats, bugs and deer that also migrate seasonally through Fort Collins and the surrounding area.
Centered around the theme “Animals in Motion,” the middle schoolers in Montano’s class at Compass Community Collaborative School studied migration patterns and maps of the city to figure out where each species was trying to go, then looked for ways to reduce the human-made obstacles they face.
They learned about the importance of each of the migrating species in the greater ecosystem, from tiny insects, to birds, to deer and elk, to humans.
“It’s basically a massive chain reaction; whatever happens to them, happens to us,” seventh-grader Ella Dixon said on a recent Wednesday evening at the Exhibition of Learning for the school’s second quarter of the school year.
Compass Community Collaborative School is a public charter school in the Poudre School District with about 175 students in grades six through 12, according to its profile. It opened in 2018 and is located along College Avenue in the middle of Fort Collins, just north of Whole Foods. Learning is project-based with a heavy emphasis on community engagement.
Students in Montano’s class of 20 spoke to an environmental planner with the city of Fort Collins, studied his habitat connectivity maps, and talked to students and staff with Colorado State University’s Natural Resources Ecology Laboratory as part of their learning, Montano said.
The first-year teacher has a master’s degree in zoology, so she likes to focus lessons and projects around animals.
Her students then broke off into smaller groups to work on specific projects related to animal migration with the goal, Montano said, of allowing migration through Fort Collins instead of around the city.
One group of students identified buildings along popular migratory paths that had windows that birds were flying into the glass of and dying. So, they created decals to place on the glass and offered to distribute them to businesses in the area to reduce bird deaths.
Other groups of the sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders built different types of bird feeders that could be filled with seeds to provide food as the birds migrate.
Like the decals, the boxes were designed to give to local businesses that students identified along the migratory paths to aid the specific animals they chose to focus on. Representatives of those businesses were invited to the Exhibition of Learning to pick up their boxes and view a 15-minute presentation the students prepared on their project.
“We chose to do bird feeders because there are a lot of birds that when they migrate, they don’t have enough food because humans are slowly destroying their habitat,” seventh-grader Isla Waldron said. “They usually migrate along the Poudre River, so we decided to make our bird feeders and give them to companies along the Poudre River.”
Harrison Kilban, a seventh-grader, had built a box for bats to shelter in during the day in an elective construction class last year at Compass. So, he and the other four members of his group made five more to distribute to schools and businesses on the west side of Fort Collins, where they learned bats are more prevalent.
“I learned all sorts of stuff about bats, like what kind of food they need, that they’re drawn to water because insects are drawn to water and they mainly prey on insects,” he said. “And then there’s so much more. I learned all the different bat species in Colorado and Fort Collins. There are 19. Just to name a few, there’s the little brown bat, the big brown bat, the Mexican free-tailed bat and a lot of others.”
Seventh-grader Ella Dixon was in the “bugs” group, which built boxes for insects with soil and seeds to grow plants that attract pollinators. She was shocked, she said, to learn about the decreasing population of pollinating insects both locally and globally and concerned about the impact that would have on our food supply.
“Bugs pollinate over 80% of our crops, such as oranges and coffee beans and so many more plants,” said Clara Hildman, a sixth-grader in the bugs group. “If we don’t have the bugs, the bats die. Then if the bats die, the crops fail. Then if the crops fail, we don’t have food. And if we don’t have food, then we die.”
The group calling itself “big-uns” focused on large-animal migration and created a diorama showing how various types of fencing and land bridges over roads, coupled with the location of trees and water sources, could reduce the number of deaths in those species from crashes with vehicles.
Each group also produced professional-looking, laminated informational posters highlighting their findings.
The posters, boxes, diorama and other props the groups created were all on display in the school’s construction lab, where Montano’s class met. Following the presentation, parents and others went from group to group, learning more about each project.
Seven other “venture” classes were making presentations and showing off their projects on topics they had studied, ranging from “The Power of Food in Building Community” to “Phone Smartly” to “Fitness Fanatics” to “Creative Ideas for Solving the World’s Problems.”
Some high school students who had participated in internships with local organizations, including No Barriers’ field campus near Red Feather Lakes and CSU’s biochemistry lab, were also on hand with models and other props to share what they had learned.
The Exhibition of Learning projects and presentations were basically their final exams, Montano said.
“This is such an interesting learning experience, because you have to learn material, you have to learn academic things, but also presentation experience and really work with others,” she said. “There’s a whole smorgasbord of things to learn. …
“All of this took all of them coming together and individually contributing. I told them as long as you show up, you present, you do the work, you pass the competencies for the class — that’s what I care about.”
Reporter Kelly Lyell covers educatiion and other topics of interest for the Coloradoan. Contact him at email@example.com, twitter.com/KellyLyell or facebook.com/KellyLyell.news.