Area teachers study seasonal changes in Flathead waters

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  • Teachers practice collecting and analyzing water samples taken from Flathead Lake at the Flathead Lake Biological Station during the fall session of a new professional development program called the “Flathead Watershed through the Seasons.” (Photo provided)

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    COURTESY PHOTO Teachers practice using a clinometer, a forestry tool used to measure a tree’s height, in June at the Big Creek Outdoor Education Center. The activity was part of a new professional development program called the “Flathead Watershed through the Seasons.”

  • Teachers practice collecting and analyzing water samples taken from Flathead Lake at the Flathead Lake Biological Station during the fall session of a new professional development program called the “Flathead Watershed through the Seasons.” (Photo provided)

  • 1

    COURTESY PHOTO Teachers practice using a clinometer, a forestry tool used to measure a tree’s height, in June at the Big Creek Outdoor Education Center. The activity was part of a new professional development program called the “Flathead Watershed through the Seasons.”

After summer, spring and fall, winter has finally arrived for a group of eight K-12 teachers ready to dive into studying what changes the season will bring to the Flathead Watershed.

The group is the first to go through a yearlong professional development program called the “Flathead Watershed through the Seasons,” a collaborative effort put on by Flathead Community Resource Educators, which works to increase awareness and understanding of natural, historical and cultural resources of the Flathead, according to flatheadcore.org.

The workshop encompasses four educational sessions in different locations around the watershed where teachers learn the answers to questions such as “why is Flathead Lake so clear?”

The Flathead Watershed covers southeastern British Columbia, Glacier National Park to the north and the Clark Fork drainage to the south.

Participants were selected from a variety of schools, including Deer Park School, Kalispell Public Schools, Columbia Falls and Whitefish school districts, in addition to a teacher who works with high school students in a program housed at the Confederated Salish Kootenai College.

“We were really trying to get a diverse representation of teachers that represent the full breadth of the watershed from north to south,” said Teresa Wenum, conservation education coordinator for Flathead National Forest. “It is great to see how they share across grade levels and school districts.”

In the summer, teachers spent a four-day retreat at the Glacier Institute’s Big Creek Outdoor Education Center located on the North Fork of the Flathead River. In the fall, the group took an overnight trip to the Flathead Lake Biological Station located at Yellow Bay on the east shore of Flathead Lake. Next on the agenda will be a stay at the Izaak Walton Inn located in Essex, where the group will study the science of snow, avalanche safety and animal adaptations. In the spring, they will close out the professional development program at Lone Pine State Park in Kalispell to recap why the watershed is vital to our communities.

The goal of the program is to provide teachers with a deeper understanding of their surroundings through an educational experience to generate lesson plan ideas in addition to connecting them to experts, professionals and locations they can incorporate in and outside the classroom.

At the Big Creek Education Center, for example, a day was spent on learning about forestry from different perspectives. Wenum said foresters from the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, U.S. Forest Service and Montana Logging Association.

She gave another example of a raft company that took participants down the North Fork, sharing about how the river is critical to his livelihood while a Flathead National Forest river manager had participants complete water monitoring tests along the way.

“A whole part of this is talking about our whole community,” Wenum said. That includes looking at the economy and culture of the watershed, “whhich all ties into sustainability. How do we sustain our places and take care of our places?”

From biologists talking about fisheries, to members of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes speaking about making things with native materials, “the whole idea there is again, giving access to these professionals who normally teachers do not get access to,” Wenum said. “They can bring those ideas back into the classroom and they know where to go to get more information.”

The professional development program is modeled after a “Forest for Every Classroom” offered through the U.S. Forest Service. Expanding to include streams, rivers and lakes was a natural progression.

“It’s such an important piece of our landscape, economy and culture. To be able to connect teachers with our watershed and the ways that it is changing and being threatened has been a neat experience, not to mention extremely important for this area’s future sustainability,” Glacier National Park Science Communication Specialist Melissa Sladek said in a press release. Sladek was part of the Flathead Watershed through the Seasons steering committee.

Room and board is provided to teachers free of charge through funding from Glacier National Park Conservancy.

Teachers who complete the yearlong program may apply for grants up to $200 to implement Flathead Watershed lessons in the classroom

“The fact that we have teachers who are so dedicated and innovative and interested in making this a better place for our kids… I’m continually amazed by our Montana educators,” said Sladek.

The next application cycle is anticipated to open in either January or February 2020 and is limited to 12 teachers. The program is open to K-12 teachers in the Flathead Watershed region.

For more information visit www.glacierinstitute.org. »

Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 758-4431 or hmatheson@dailyinterlake.com.

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