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Connecticut Students Find Diversity in the Metacomet Ridge

Students participating in the Metacomet Ridge Interdistrict Academy are learning about diversity - diversity not only of soils, land cover, geology and the weather, but also of people.

The academy is a multi-school, multi-district effort in the Hartford, Connecticut area that brings urban and suburban/rural students of diverse racial, ethnic and economic status together in teams to study the Metacomet Ridge.

The rocky ridge rises above the Connecticut Valley, stretching the length of the state, essentially splitting it in two and producing a diversity of ecosystems and geology. The formation began as the massive super-continent Pangaea split 200 million years ago. Large fissures sent huge volumes of lava into the flatbeds of central Connecticut. The lava lakes cooled and hardened into the basalt common on the ridge.

"As rifting continued, the eastern edge of the basalt layer sank and has since been covered by sedimentary processes, but the western edge is exposed to what we see today," says Tom Alena, a meteorologist and GLOBE trainer who works with GLOBE students and their teachers through the Talcott Mountain Science Center. "The Metacomet Ridge provides a unique habitat and microclimate to be studied using GLOBE protocols. What a great opportunity for the students to get out of their classroom and do real science in the beautiful environment of the Metacomet Ridge," he added.

The ridge's formation has helped shape the settlement of people in the area as well as the development of their ecosystems. Towns along the ridge are interested in limiting the development that is increasingly creeping up. The state's department of environmental protection is interested in surveys of invasive plants. The students' data - which come from GLOBE soils, land cover, hydrology and atmosphere protocols - could be valuable to many local officials.

The Metacomet Ridge project flourishes in the summer time, when it's easiest for students to spend large amounts of time outdoors. Teams of four to six students, half from urban schools, half from suburban or rural schools, form land cover teams. Joe Shrank, a GLOBE teacher from Southington High School and the coordinator of the summer program, said that get-acquainted activities like sports activities and hikes have proven to be an important part of the project's success. He noted that having fun and being part of a team fosters friendships among young people who might not otherwise think they have much in common.

The ambitious project has been funded by a grant from the state's department of education and managed by the Capitol Region Education Council (CREC) for three years. Shrank and CREC's Tom Menditto, another coordinator of the project, are working to incorporate more GLOBE study of the ridge into the curricula of area schools during the school year, when getting out to the ridge is more difficult.

Meanwhile, the students who volunteer to participate in the Metacomet Ridge project during the summer are analyzing the land cover of the ridge. Teams use hand-held computers with digital cameras to help in their work, which they eventually put together as Powerpoint presentations. They are also using Geographic Information Systems to create maps that reflect the different variables they find in the ecology of the ridge.

"Using the landsat images and the computer, we could come up with the total acreages in the state, say, that have similar tree assemblage," said Shrank . "The focus of the science and technology out there is the square that we're looking at. It serves as the starting point," he noted.

Their work recently caught the attention of the local Fox news team, which has been doing a series of features on people who are contributing to the community.

"GLOBE has given us the protocols and we've been able to grow a lot off of GLOBE," said Shrank . "Getting the different kids together - the satisfaction I get from the whole thing is that part of it," he concluded.

19 November 2002