Sleigh rides are the new classroom

The Jackson Hole Elementary second graders of Shannon Heart's taking pictures of elk sparring at the National Elk Refuge on Tuesday, February 15.

The Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival and the National Elk Refuge teamed up this week to take local elementary students on sleigh rides across the National Elk Refuge to help carry out a year-long environmental education program promoting the study of local animals.

A sleigh ride naturalist accompanies the students during the ride teaching them about animal migration, hibernation and adaptation.

Meanwhile, students are given a digital camera, provided by the JHWFF, allowing them to document the nature they observe.

“I’ve never seen a real elk fighting before,” said one Jackson Hole Elementary second grader whose classroom overlooks the Elk Refuge.

This program is meant to encourage children to focus on local animals by putting them inside the action and making their textbooks come to life.

This program also contributes to the Festival’s year-round community initiatives which integrate photography and digital media with art, literature and nature.

“Not only do children get to learn about animals,” said Mark Abetz, a sleigh ride naturalist, “But they get to know their local landscape and mountain areas, like where Flat Creek runs and how high above sea level the Grand Teton is.”

Student’s minds are more stimulated while actively observing wildlife in its home, stirring a stronger curiosity as to why animals do what they do in nature.

Mark asked the students why they think the elk were sparring and a girl replied, “Because he is fighting for his wife, silly!”

The next phase of this project will continue this spring.

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