05/14/14 — Candid camera: Wildlife style

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Candid camera: Wildlife style

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on May 14, 2014 1:46 PM

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Sam Dively, 12, Isabelle Vigneault, 13, Langley Barnes, 13, Charlie Dees, 13, and Pria Patel, 13, spread apple cores and rolls in a clearing near woods behind Wayne Country Day School where the class has been tracking wildlife. In addition to video and still photos the group looks for tracks and fur left behind from animals who visit. Seventh-grade science teacher Cathie Hooks, left, has used grant money to purchase tools and supplies for anthropological digs and nature studies.

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Langley Barnes opens a trail camera to retrieve the memory card. Students have been studying the habits of wild animals like deer and fox.

A Tri-County Electric Bright Ideas grant has given a class of seventh-graders at Wayne Country Day School the opportunity to combine a study of environmental and ecological science with North Carolina history.

Cathie Hooks said her students set up a "trail cam" on a quadrant near a creek on the school property and have been enamored with the "ghost-like creatures" that showed up on the motion-activated camera.

During her career, Mrs. Hooks said she has been fortunate to receive more than a dozen of the grants.

"I've been at (WCDS) for eight years and have gotten one every year," she said.

The funding has allowed her to develop projects that might not otherwise be possible. The latest one paid for the continuation of a hydroponics garden and growth system, allowing the students to grow more food and defraying the cost of batteries and the camera.

"After observing animal tracks and movement patterns, students set up a trail cam where there seemed to be the most wildlife activity," she said. "Students have photographed, videoed and subsequently studied various wildlife native to North Carolina -- deer, fox, both gray and red, raccoons and opossum, to name a few."

In addition to photo journaling, the students have grown a variety of crops in the classroom's organic/hydroponic garden. Along the way, Mrs. Hooks said, they have realized some of the preferences of the animals drawn to the trail near the school.

"We have learned that the deer liked our slightly ripened sweet potatoes and collards," she said. "They also ate the fescue sod we developed/grew on the banks of our classroom river.

"The fox family likes the apple cores we recycle from the cafeteria. The raccoons seem to like it all. We leave the food in the vicinity of the cam, which is motion-activated, for research purposes. It's always fun to check the video card to see who or what passed through our quadrant."

The experiment has provided many teachable moments, the educator said.

"Students have learned so much about protecting our environment and our animal resources," she said. "They have also experienced firsthand the concept of supply and demand and the competition that exists for space and food sources in wildlife habitats. The fact that multiple species co-exist has been revelatory as well."

Student Langley Barnes said, "I learned that we're not the only ones in our area competing for land and resources."

"I learned with the quadrant activity that there are many animals I didn't know were native to North Carolina," said her classmate, David Gurley. "It was such a great experience."

Seventh-grader Tony Barbour said, "Animals will eat things that I didn't realize they would eat. This cut down on competition for the same foods."

And of course, going outside for class was "more interesting that looking at it in a textbook," said Laurel Hinson.

Mrs. Hooks said she hopes next year to expand the project even further, setting up multiple cameras in different locations.

"There is talk of planting a small garden outside as well as continuing the projects started this year, all pending approval from our headmaster and securing the grants necessary to support the project with technology and supplies," she said.

One of the projects, completed by students Charlie Dees and Drew Barnes, can also be seen on the school's website, dailycharger.com, she said.