Teacher tries to make conservation practical

Darlene Bartel has loved the prairie all her life. Combining that with her fondness for the environment has led to her being named winner of the Marion County Conservation District “Conservation Education Award” for 2002.

Bartel has taught at Hillsboro Middle School for 11 years, but for the last five years, her specialty has been eighth-grade science.

While Bartel didn’t grow up on a farm, she married into a farming family and has been able to keep in close contact with the natural resources she strives to teach her students to protect and cherish.

This is her fifth year of teaching conservation-related studies.

Gary Schuler, Marion County District conservationist, works in conjunction with Bartel’s classes, periodically.

“Darlene is a science teacher and she’s worked on projects such as the ‘JASON’ project and the ‘Streamlink’ project,” Schuler said. “She’s a hands-on teacher. She teaches with techniques that the kids can relate to rather than just out of a textbook.’

Bartel said: “I want my students to, at some point, realize (the environment) is what they have. A lot of textbooks deal with studies of the rain forrest and the ocean, but none of those are personally applicable to these kids.

“I really feel they need to realize this is our local environment.”

Bartel got started with the JASON project, which originated with Robert Bowers, who discovered the wreck of the Titanic. The program was named after his favorite Greek myth, “Jason and the Argonauts.”

“When I got involved with the JASON project, we started looking at the local watershed,” Bartel said.

Her class visited Marion Reservoir and has participated in water-quality studies and science studies.

Bartel tries to involve her students in a practical manner, so they get “a chance to do and see real projects of science.”

“Hopefully, the kids can see that the chemistry we do in the classroom is the same as what we do out in the field,” Bartel said. “They can see real application, and we talk about careers. They like it.

“They get out of the classroom and wade into the water to take samples.”

Schuler is a well-known guest in Bartel’s classroom.

“I usually try to get him in here at least once a year,” Bartel said. “Gary has come out and taken us to the reservoir, and told us what his job is.”

Schuler affirms that Bartel deserves this award.

“It’s pretty evident when she teaches that she stresses her love of the environment,” he said. “She’s real enthusiastic and seems to be able to infuse her level of learning in the kids.

“The kids respond well to her style of teaching,” he added. “We thought, as a district, she was deserving of this award.”

In today’s high-tech world, Bartel also uses the resources the Internet provides.

She’s gone on-line with such sites as the JASON project, the Kansas Geological Survey, and the National Geological Survey Web sites.

Also on Bartel’s wish list is another program, called the “Globe Project.”

Bartel described this program as one where “you map the specified area.”

With the help of technology, their goal is to map not only United States, but eventually the entire world, with methods such as Global Positioning Satellites.

“It’s a pretty cool project, but you just can’t get to them all,” Bartel said.

She stresses to her students that the environment is a precious commodity.

“The environment is quite fragile, and we have to take care of it,” Bartel said. “What happens several miles upstream also happens downstream.

Said Schuler: “She gets her students to think of the environment and she’s been good about teaching about conservation. She gets her kids to think about the environment and water quality.”

Bartel views her “Teacher of the Year” award with some pride, but also with modesty.

“I was very surprised to win this award,” Bartel said. “It’s not an award you apply for, so it was a very nice surprise.

“It’s very nice to be recognized for the work that you do.”

With her love of the prairie and her connection to the local resources of Marion County, Bartel is a natural to lead a crusade for a more beneficial environment for the next generation.

“I want my students to feel a connection with the region where they live,” she said.

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