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Great Smoky Mountains National Park, through Friends of the Smokies, is one of twenty national parks to be awarded grants as part of the 2012 Park Stewards program. Since 2009, the National Park Foundation's Park Stewards program has made it possible for high school teachers and their students across the country to build a deeper connection and sense of stewardship for their national parks through personal engagement and service learning projects.
Starting in June, Park Ranger Emily Darling and Robbinsville High School science teacher, Melissa Duckworth have been working on developing and planning a series of projects that tie to academic standards and provide meaningful service to the Smokies. Duckworth spent the summer working in the Smokies as a Teacher-Ranger-Teacher, a national program that places teachers as field employees in parks so they can gain first-hand experience to enhance their classroom while lending their expertise in teaching to park rangers.
Since September, the Earth/Environmental Science ninth grade classes from Robbinsville traveled to the park three times during the fall semester and received several visits from Ranger Darling to their classroom. During these trips the students participated in several citizen science projects in the park collecting phenology, snail, water quality, and salamander data. These studies are set up at locations around the park to look for impacts from issues such as exotic species, air pollution and climate change. Several of these studies have been set up on the campus at Robbinsville High School and at locations in the park closer to Robbinsville, so students in the future can benefit from the partnership.
"We are excited about this partnership that connects local students to the issues impacting the Smokies and their community," said Park Superintendent Dale Ditmanson. "We hope these students continue their relationship with the park as we intensify our monitoring of the impacts of earlier and warmer spring seasons and exotic species such as the recently discovered Emerald Ash Borer beetle."
To celebrate the wrap up of the fall semester project, a "Great Smoky Mountain Black Knight Citizen Science Team" reception will be held at Robbinsville High School on Thursday December 6 from 5:00pm to 6:30pm. Students will share their research data collection experiences through photos and film from Great Smoky Mountains National Park.