There are many ways to describe the new science curriculum at Hayden Valley Elementary School: "educational," for instance, or "eco-conscious." Or "ewww." Hayden, a tiny outpost in the Colorado woods, is home to a rich diversity of wildlife, much of which ends up dead on the side of the local stretch of U.S. Highway 40. This year, second and fourth graders have started keeping tabs on the ex-animals, mapping their locations with GIS technology. The program, called Critter Control, plays on kids' fascination with the grody, but it's real science--after five years, they'll have enough data to recommend new places for animal-crossing signs and culverts to the Colorado Division of Wildlife.
Teachers Barb Paulekas and Laura LeBrun expected parents to be put off by the idea. But Hayden is a hunting town, and dead animals "are a way of life" there, Paulekas notes. Most folks embraced Critter Control. Heck, some parents even participated: "One night, my dad actually made the roadkill," says second grader Jake Hockett. In rural communities like Hayden, deer and elk are often caught in the headlights, sapping municipal cleanup budgets and endangering residents. The project may end up benefiting the town as much as the students. If so, it could go nationwide. Hayden Valley is the only school in the United States with Critter Control, but the Orton Family Foundation, which supplied the GIS equipment, is funding similar mapping projects elsewhere. None of them focuses on roadkill, but kids may want to change that.