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First-graders plan bear awareness campaign

SEBRING - Cracker Trail Elementary teacher Sheli Gossett's first-grade class has been invited to work with the Jane Goodall Institute and Google Maps on piloting new digitized mapping tools and creating a tutorial.

If successful, her students' work will be viewed globally, Gossett said.

Goodall, a primatologist, founded the institute in 1977, which focuses on the preservation of great apes and other primates and their habitats.

Gossett's participation in an educator fair in Orlando in mid-January prompted her class to work on a project that led to the Goodall invite.

Gossett attended Jane Goodall's Roost and Shoots session, which encourages the youth to plan and conduct community service projects.

"I came back from the share fair energized and ready to plan a community service learning project," Goossett said.

For a chance to receive a $200 grant, her students completed a community mapping assignment using Google Maps. Then they made observations and researched issues in the community.

The students listed human, animal and environmental issues and took a vote to determine which they would focus on.

The Florida black bear won the vote, Gossett said.

The grant had a quick turn-around time for completing the requirements, and she sent it in on Jan. 30, which was one day before the deadline.

The student's project is called the "Be Bear Aware" campaign.

"The day after we submitted our grant, the Musselman Story came out," Gossett said, referring to the arrest of Mary Musselman, of Sebring, who was charged with illegally feeding bears.

"We felt validated in our choice of campaigns," Gossett said.

The students, who call themselves the "'Neigh-BEAR-hood Watch Kids," will be hosting their first community event at their school's annual PTO hoedown, 5-7 p.m., March 27.

The students will inform the public not to feed bears intentionally or unintentionally and will model what to do should a person have a bear encounter, Gossett noted.

As part of the project, the students wrote persuasive letters to the Publix corporate office asking for a donation. The grocery chain responded with a $100 gift card.

Students came up with the idea for an activity for visitors to the Neigh-BEAR-Hood Watch Kids Booth.

While Gossett's students offer information about bear safety, the visitors will receive a cupcake to decorate to look like a bear.

The students have made "Don't Feed Bears" T-shirts to wear at the PTO hoedown, she said. They will also be collecting and plotting bear sighting data from those who visit their booth.

Gossett noted she had her first conference call with the Jane Goodall Institute and Google Maps on Friday.

Google Maps is developing new digitized mapping tools, and her students will help pilot those tools and then create a tutorial for other students and teachers, she said.

She hasn't received word on the $200 grant because the deadline was extended, Gossett said.

"It's important that people know that it is student-driven," she said. "I really am just a support person or facilitator. I brought the idea of having a community service campaign to them, but it was their choice in what they wanted to do and all the ideas are coming from them."