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By Andi Bourne

Building a Sense of Place on the Banks of the Blackfoot River


Andi Bourne, Pathfinder

Students met on the riverbank where the Clearwater enters the Blackfoot River, a site described in Norman Maclean's "A River Runs Through It." Jessica Eller, a graduate student that works with author Chris Dombrowski at the University of Montana helped students captured their own ideas and feelings in words and rhythms enhanced by real current rushing by.

GREENOUGH – The confluence of the Blackfoot and the Clearwater Rivers off Sunset Hill Road was the classroom for nearly 100 Seeley-Swan High School students May 10 as a part of their annual Discovery Day. Discovery Day was funded through grants from the Seeley Lake Community Foundation and the Montana Environmental Education Association. This year the focus was rivers.

"The reason for focusing it on rivers was to prepare some kids to be able to present things at the Norman Maclean Festival in the fall [Sept. 8-10]. We needed to do something this spring that links to that because we would really love some of our high school students to be a part of that and present what they are learning," said organizer Lori Messenger.

Organizers Messenger and Tonya Smith based this year's sessions on student evaluations from previous years. Various local professionals offered eight sessions ranging from wildlife, geology, recreation and service learning to creative writing and nature journaling.

The day-long event ties in well with Missoula County Public Schools 21st Century Learning Initiative and Indian Ed For All.

"We are trying to fit it into the bigger circular initiatives that are supposed to be more multi-disciplinary and to tie it to course work for at least several of their classes. We have done well with the arts, English, science and social studies. Math has been harder to figure out how to pull in productively for high school," said Messenger.

Andi Bourne, Pathfinder

Students learned from Nancy Seiler about nature journaling. Seiler is an illustrator, painter, graphic designer and a Golden Artist Educator for Golden Artist Colors. Seiler gave tips on how to draw landscapes, leaves, record at least five observations about the object and other notable things in the surroundings, and use negative space to help space the object. Students had more than an hour to make their color swatches with their watercolor pencils to help match the colors they see with the pencil colors, draw a plant or part of a plant and a landscape. "Other sessions were more expected, the students picked what they wanted and they liked learning about it. The journaling one they didn't know what to expect from it. I just kept telling them they would love it and they did," said Organizer Lori Messenger.

This year's sessions were two and a half hours long allowing the students and presenters to go more in depth in topics the students were interested in. Students ranked the sessions by their interest level. Messenger said, "Because they really wanted quite different things, mostly they got their top two choices.

Messenger said from the evaluations she read, the students appreciated the longer sessions. Messenger said they had a larger percentage with a positive response.

"The students were pretty happy and excited about it," said Messenger.

Messenger was thankful to all the private landowners and the Potter Land Trust for "opening their arms and allowing the students to learn on their land about their landscape."

"I think the more the younger generation can be out the better. We need more people that really care for the land," said Betty Potter who was excited to see so many young students out enjoying the land. Potter said her late husband Bill was instrumental in getting the Block Management program started. "We wanted to work with the public as much as possible," added Potter who still opens their land up for hunting with the program.

"For as small as our community is, it seems like we don't have as much connection as I would like to see between what goes on at the high school and what goes on in the broader community and environment. It was really neat bringing those elements together and getting to watch people interact with each other successfully," said Messenger.


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