For an in-depth research project, elementary school art teacher Steve Martinson wanted to find a subject to which students could relate.
He chose chronic wasting disease, the fatal brain ailment that affects deer and elk.
"It's timely, there's local interest and I thought it would be something good for the students to investigate," Martinson said.
The investigative team Martinson has created consists of eight fourth graders from Sunset Elementary School.
The students have researched the disease, and have interviewed several experts and officials on the subject, including a wildlife biologist and Moffat County Commissioner Marianna Raftopoulos, who serves on the Colorado Wildlife Commission.
The students are putting together a program using computers and will present their findings in the form of a news report to the Moffat County Board of Education in its February meeting.
Martinson said the students don't even realize the array of skills they are learning.
It's kind of a science-based project, he said, yet students are also learning journalism and research skills at the same time.
"They've had some good insights," he said. "The thing I'm most impressed with is the depth of understanding they've gained in such a short time."
Choosing a subject of local interest, such as chronic wasting disease, which last spring was discovered to have hit the Western Slope for the first time, keeps the students engaged, he said.
"It's been neat because the students' interest level has been very high," Martinson said. "They're on the edge of their seats every time we have class."
Some students have parents involved in the hunting and ranching industry, while others are learning that the disease impacts them simply because they live in Northwest Colorado.
"This affects all the kids either directly or indirectly," he said. "I thought about doing something like global warming but I wanted something with more local interest."
It's also an interesting subject because the students must keep up with the latest news on the disease, whether it be new tests being developed, or the latest political conflicts being fought by the state and those in the ranching industry, he said.
"I can't wait to talk about the cutting-edge developments with the kids," he said. "That's what makes this whole project really neat. Even the experts don't know all the answers. We're trying to keep pace with all of the latest research."
The research is almost complete, Martinson said, and now it's time to start putting the presentation together.
They are simply going to answer the questions like what the disease is, where it's from and why it's such a big deal in Northwest Colorado.
"They are going to answer the questions that people need to know," he said.
And judging by their progress thus far, that shouldn't be a problem, Martinson said.
"I would say most of these students have a better understanding of this disease than most people on the street," he said. "That's what has impressed me the most."
Josh Nichols can be reached at 824-7031 or firstname.lastname@example.org.