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Home arrow News arrow Local News arrow WILLOW STUDENTS ARE...LEARNING FROM FOSSILS



A LOOK AT THE PAST: Sarah Herve, a ranger for the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, talks with Willow Elementary School sixth-graders. The students are examining fossils from the John Day area. The students are, left to right, Eli Wilder, Kayla Hafer and Skyler Jordan. (The Observer/DICK MASON).
A LOOK AT THE PAST: Sarah Herve, a ranger for the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, talks with Willow Elementary School sixth-graders. The students are examining fossils from the John Day area. The students are, left to right, Eli Wilder, Kayla Hafer and Skyler Jordan. (The Observer/DICK MASON).

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

Willow Elementary School students are turning back the pages of Oregons history one fossil at a time.

Willows fifth- and sixth-graders are learning about the states past through its fossil record. Oregons fossil record includes prehistoric cat skulls, rabbits teeth and pecans that are millions of years old.

Students are getting a first-hand look at such gems with the help of their teachers and experts like Sarah Herve, a park ranger for the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.

Herve is helping prepare the fifth- and sixth-grade students for a trip this spring to the John Day fossil beds. Herve recently showed the students such things as a 27-million-year-old rabbits tooth, a 30-million-year-old skull of a cat-like creature known as a pogonodonplatycopis, and a 50-million-year-old pecan, all of which were found at the John Day Fossil Beds.

Herve brought no dinosaur bones to Willow. The reason is that few, if any, dinosaurs ever lived in what is now Oregon. The state was under water during the time that dinosaurs roamed the earth, Herve said. Dinosaurs are believed to have become extinct 65 million years ago, a time when Oregon was still submerged.

Herve makes a point of explaining this because children often associate fossils only with dinosaurs. They dont realize that other plants and animals were also fossilized millions of year ago.

When Herve discusses fossils with Willows students, she tries to get them to see earlier animals evolved into todays species.

I want them to understand the relationship between animals we have today and animals from the past, Herve said.

Herve will meet with the fifth- and sixth-graders at the fossil beds. She is urging the children to be good stewards of the site. This means they should be careful not to handle any fossils they find exposed in the sites volcanic mud and clay stone.

Herve tells students that they should report anything they find to an adult so that a paleontologist can be sent in. Herve said that removing a fossil would make it almost impossible for scientists to connect it with other prehistoric remains in the area.

Removing it would be like ripping the page out of a book which has no page numbers, Herve said. You wouldnt know where to put it back.

Fifth and sixth-graders have been studying fossils at Willow for several weeks in preparation for their trip. Students have done much of their work with a kit loaned to Willow by the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. The kit contains about 20 fossils.

Fifth-grade teacher Klel Carson and sixth-grade teacher Michelle Miranda-McDaniel have had their students participate in a number of fossil projects in class. Students have been learning how scientists conduct digs for fossils, how timelines are made and much more.

Children have responded enthusiastically to the project, said Miranda-McDaniel. She noted that one student in her class who normally is not focused has become fascinated with fossils. The boy has become so interested that he even asked to take some fossils home.

McDaniel said that students are also excited because they will be visiting actual fossil beds in the spring and will be able to apply what they have learned.

In addition to fifth- and sixth-graders, some students in the second-through-fourth grades at Willow are also studying fossils under the direction of reading teacher Kristy Boyd.

The John Day fossil beds will be one of many places Willows fifth- and sixth-graders will visit during their trip which will run May 13-17.

Students will also visit the High Desert Museum near Bend, Crater Lake, Ashlands Shakespearean theater and the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry in Portland.


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