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Student scientists tackle field work

Volunteer Wendy Olenick (right) teaches Colby McCarron, 11 (left) and Meagan Franks, 12, both of Magnolia School, how to make Maidu chains from the small branches of a Douglas fir. See story on A3.
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Hank Meals thinks he’s found a budding archaeologist in sixth-grader Danny DeLaveaga.

“He’s got the bug,” said the author of “Yuba Trails”, a book about local trails and local history. “He’s very thorough.”

Meals noticed Danny’s note-taking ability and attention to detail Wednesday morning when Meals showed a few students archaeological sites near Malakoff School.



The school closed down a couple of years ago when enrollment dropped to one student, but Diane Pasquini, director of a budding nature center in the building, teamed with Nevada Union High School science teacher Leslie Smith to “pry kids loose from school” to spend a few hours with a local science expert.

The students – 38 from Magnolia Intermediate, Sierra Foothill High, Grizzly Hill, 3R and Grass Valley Charter schools – took notes to report back to classmates. Wednesday’s field trip, the first of its kind, was paid for by a state grant, said Smith, who is also science coordinator at the Nevada County Superintendent of Schools Office.




Jocelyn Bayne, a Magnolia seventh-grader, did detailed drawings of the group’s findings, a milling stone and other 2,000-year-old items you’d find at an historic campsite.

“We found some points that are very possibly formerly used by native people who lived a long time ago,” 11-year-old Grizzly Hill student Zane Giffin said authoritatively.

Meals advised students, “to allow artifacts to do the talking. As soon as you take the position that you know, the information stops coming in,” Meals said.

When naturalist David Lukas showed students and teachers bug trails on the underside of ceanothus leaves, Jessica Venberg, a Grizzly Hill seventh grader, took notes. The trails were left by “soft grubs that everything wants to eat,” which is why they hide under leaves, Lukas explained.

Lukas showed students how white fir seedlings were crowding out cedar trees in one trail-side spot and explained how, “trees are solar antennae bringing one life form on the ground.”

At the end of the morning, Marshall Hodges, a junior at Sierra Foothill High School, relayed what Wendy Olenick, a Maidu ethno-botanist, taught his group about the use of plants. Soap root is a fish sedative: Put it on the water and fish float to the top to be caught, Hodges said.

The fourth group, lead by citizen monitor Geri Stout, took measurements in a pond.

Smith said she hoped to plan more such field trips to show students what science is.

“Science is about asking questions,” Smith said.

And field trips are often about getting students back to campus in time to catch the school bus home, she noted.


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