Preserving rainforests

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 10, 1999

MICHAEL KIRAL / L’Observateur / November 10, 1999

LUTCHER – Second by second, minute by minute, hour by hour, Earth is losing one of its most precious resources. A predator is devouring thatresource, causing the disappearance of an unknown number of animals and plants.

That predator is man, and the resource that is being devoured is the planet’s tropical rainforests.

Every year, between 19 and 50 million acres of rainforest is lost to farming, logging, mining and other human endeavors. In Central America,two-thirds of the region’s rainforests have already disappeared. The lossof this resource has effects, both known and unknown, on the world in which we live.

Students in Janie Ryland’s environmental science class at Lutcher High School recently studied about the rainforest biome. But instead of justreading about it in a textbook or watching films, those students created their own rainforests right in their classroom, learning hands-on about this precarious resource.

The two classes, consisting of juniors and seniors, first watched a film about the biome, finding out what lives and in what levels of the rainforest. The students then got to work on their creation, using papermache to create the wildlife and flora. Each student had his or her ownanimal or plant to work on. The students then had to place their animal inone of the four layers of the rainforest and explain to Ryland why they put it there.

Seven days later, the classroom was transformed into a jungle. Vines andtrees surround the classroom with cotton balls strung about to represent the mist in the rainforests. The students even covered the lights to makethe room darker. An anaconda slithered through the vines as exotic birdsand monkeys looked down from the trees. Fish swam the waters flowingthrough the rainforest, while insects and smaller animals crawled along the ground.

Ryland then gave the students a test. The students had to walk around theclassroom imagining that they were walking through a rainforest. Tapes ofjungle sounds were played to add to the realism. The students then had towrite down everything they knew about the rainforest from what they learned in the film and in their readings and while they were building their rainforest, explaining the layers of the rainforest, the animals and people live there and the befits of the rainforests to the world.

It was a project Ryland said the students took great pride in.

“They really did a good job of it,” Ryland said. “They are protecting itwith their lives. They are really proud of it. They keep bringing people into see it. I’m proud of them for putting all this effort into it. They did anexcellent job.”The students are also selling “Save the Rainforest” T-shirts. For every 10shirts they sell, the students hope to save an acre of rainforest.

Ryland said the rainforest project is an example of the new style of teaching that is now being used in schools.

“It’s hands-on and student-taught,” Ryland said. “We are letting the kidsteach themselves by working through projects.”In another one of Ryland’s Environmental Science classes, students are working with the Department of Environmental Quality and Wildlife and Fisheries in studying Blind River. The St. James Sheriff’s Department hasalso offered a boat and local historian Charlie Duhe has offered to take the students down the river. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Motiva havealso offered assistance.

“Wherever we go in the parish, somebody is always happy to help us out,” Ryland said.

Students will be studying the river up close. The class has alreadycollected plants from the river and has applied for a permit to collect small animals. Students will also be studying with representatives fromDEQ to do experiments with water samples.

Assistant principal Joellyn Hebert says projects like the rainforest and Blind River will give students a chance to study issues that affect their world.

“The students are learning real-life situations through hands-on applications,” Hebert said.

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