A fourth-grade teacher at River Valley School is partnering with Lemont Township this year to give students an interactive learning experience with local wildlife.
Earlier this spring, River Valley teacher Sonya Raymond was awarded a $5,400 grant from the Lemont-Bromberek Combined School District 113A Education Foundation to fund a program called “NatureMapping.”
Co-founded by the University of Washington and the Washington State Department of Fish & Wildlife in 1992, NatureMapping involves the study of organisms and wildlife through observation, data collection and analytical techniques.
Raymond started introducing her classes to the program this year in hopes of contributing information about Lemont to a national database. Students will use field guides and document their findings using iPad Minis, a digital microscope and GPS devices.
“We’re in the beginning stages right now, but ultimately we’re striving to learn as much as possible about the different aspects of Lemont,” Raymond said. “We’ll be collecting data to send on to scientists at the national level.”
On Oct. 7, Raymond’s class took a field trip to Lemont Township’s Heritage Woodland Sanctuary, a 59-acre preserve located near I-355 and 127th Street. The site is home to the Lemont Township Community Center and Central Bark dog park, but it also includes savannas, wetlands and woodlands, and more than 100 species of trees, wildflowers and wildlife.
The trip was planned after Raymond was introduced to Lemont Township Facilities Director Kathy Henriksen, who invited students to spend a day in preserve.
“We’re really fortunate to have this incredible nature preserve, which a lot of people don’t even realize is there,” Raymond said.
During their visit, Raymond’s students toured the grounds and had the opportunity to meet with one of the township’s prairie management consultants.
“It was a good introduction to what we’ll be studying,” Raymond said. “The students had a great time exploring, and were even able to spend time with the seniors at Lemont Township before we left.”
For the township, the visit fulfilled a longtime goal of turning the preserve and community center into valuable learning tools for residents.
“It’s a win-win for everyone,” Henrikson said. “We have students coming out and learning about local wildlife and using the facilities that we’ve invested in, which I think is great.”
Raymond said she is planning to return to the Heritage Woodland Sanctuary with her classes, and is also planning a visit to the Lemont Quarries. There, her classes will have the opportunity to study different species, like the endangered Hine’s emerald dragonfly.
“This fits in really well with our curriculum and the Common Core, so we’re excited to move forward and get the students out in the community, interacting with nature,” Raymond said.