Seeley Swan Pathfinder -

By Andi Bourne

Biannual Field Trip Engages Students in Civics and Science


Patti Bartlett

Seeley Lake Elementary eighth grade students learned about a great horned owl at Montana Wild's Raptor Rehabilitation Center in Helena.

On Friday, March 22 Seeley Lake Elementary (SLE) junior high students took their biannual trip to Helena to visit Montana Wild and the State Capitol. Students participated in three different Montana Wild programs and were able to watch the Senate in action as well as meet Governor Steve Bullock.

The junior high takes this trip every other year when the legislature is in session. SLE Civics Teacher Duane Schlabach has his students follow a bill of their choice in Civics class so they understand the process of how a bill is introduced, goes through committee hearings and passes both chambers before finally landing on the Governor's desk for a signature or veto.

The House was not in session on Friday due to a long day previously working on the budget. However, the students were able to watch the Senate in action.

"It was great to see a few students recognize the legislators whose bills they were following," said Schlabach.

Schlabach said the reason he takes students to the legislature is best summed up by former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Conner, "Democracy is not inherited at birth but rather learned at school."

Schlabach explained, "I feel that with our testing culture in public schools where a school gets a report card on student achievement the focus has naturally shifted to the subject areas being tested and civics is not one of those tested. While I'm not denigrating the importance of core subject areas (I teach them myself!) I believe we have forgotten about teaching civics. I have made it my personal mission, with administrative approval, to teach civics because I believe a) that it teaches self-confidence in teaching students that they can make a difference, b) it also teaches responsibility because we must participate in a government of the people and for the people in order to ensure the freedoms we currently enjoy, and c) it connects them to a sense of community where one individual becomes part of something larger than him/herself."

The eighth graders visited the capitol in the morning while the seventh graders attended Montana Wild. In the afternoon they switched.

During the seventh-graders afternoon tour, Governor Steve Bullock walked through the rotunda. Schlabach said he recognized the students as being from Seeley Lake. He gave us an impromptu tour of his office.

Photo provided

SLE's seventh grade class poses with Governor Steve Bullock. They were given an impromptu tour of the Governor's office after he passed them in the hallway and recognized the group was from Seeley Lake.

"It was a once in a lifetime opportunity for the seventh graders," said Schlabach. "The beauty of teaching civics in the great state of Montana is the accessibility of our elected officials and the personal tour of the Governor's office exemplifies this very well."

At Montana Wild, a long eared owl and a great horned owl were special guests in the raptor rehabilitation portion of the program. The primary goal of the rehabilitation facility is to return birds to the wild; however, some were injured beyond the point of being self-sufficient and are kept at Montana Wild for student/public presentations.

Students also participated in an archery program. They were given a safety lesson, taught to shoot and score. Along with the archery program, students participated in an interactive wolf program.

Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks offers grant opportunities for rural schools to visit Montana Wild by subsidizing transportation costs. SLE Outdoor Coordinator Bridget Laird was responsible for acquiring the grant to make the trip possible.


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