If all goes according to plan, Tyler Gonzales, 8, will see something today that he's been hoping to see for a while.
It's called the outrun, and it's the first stage in a sheepdog trial. In it, the dog runs from a starting post and steers a herd of sheep.
Tyler and other second-grade students at Sunset Elementary School can watch the outrun and other stages of an agricultural competition at the 2008 Meeker Classic Sheepdog Championship Trials today. The event showcases the combined ability of animal and handler to maneuver a herd of sheep through a course.
Watching dogs herd sheep may not seem like enthralling entertainment for an 8-year-old.
But, Gonzales and his classmate, Makaylah Hampton, 7, have cause for enthusiasm.
They've read about sheepdogs, learned about sheep and have calculated trial entry costs for families of various sizes.
When asked if they were excited to see the event they've studied in class, Makaylah and Tyler's responses were the same.
Their eyes widened.
Their heads nodded.
Their voices became louder.
"Yeah," they said in unison.
Their teacher, Cheryl Arnett, first saw the sheepdog trials used as a teaching tool 15 years ago. She was a student teacher then under Sue Beachman, an East Elementary School second-grade teacher.
When Arnett got a classroom of her own, she decided to carry on the tradition.
"There's something about children and animals : that is magical," she said. "Kids relate to the animals."
Arnett has found a way to work the trials into nearly every subject she teaches.
For instance, Arnett has students play a game that takes them through the trial course, requiring them to keep track of points they win and lose.
What students may not immediately recognize is that the game also is a math lesson.
Students also hone literacy skills as they read two booklets Arnett wrote: One about sheep in general, the other about the Meeker Classic specifically.
They learn how to glean details from an informational brochure for the sheepdog trials.
Other lessons learned in the sheep dog trials apply to more than school.
They apply to life.
"The sheepdog trials lend themselves to teaching about the need for rule out in public," Arnett said. "There are not only rules for :the contestants, but there are rules for the spectators, as well."
A distracted dog can lead to lost points during a trial, and with a $20,000 purse at stake, every point counts.
What students learn at the trials also can help build character.
"There's a lot to learn from sheepdog trials that we still teach today, that hard work and practice pay off," she said.
Social skills come into play, as well.
Students "learn how to be part of a group, how to follow directions, how to stay safe and have fun" at the trials, said Maureen Zehner, a second-grade teacher at Ridgeview Elementary School.
Zehner uses Arnett's booklets to prepare her students for the field trip. While students learn about the trials, Zehner can gauge her students' literacy skills.
"Since it's the first week of school, it gives us a chance to : assess the kids and see how well they're reading at the second-grade level," she said.
Other second-grade classes, including Zehner's, have joined Arnett's annual pilgrimage to Meeker. Second-grade classes from all three Craig elementary schools are scheduled to attend the sheepdog trials this week.
Corporate and fiscal organizations also have stepped in to help. Exxon Mobil will cover transportation costs to send second-graders to the trials. First National Bank of the Rockies is offering a savings bond to winners in a coloring contest for flags of countries participating in the event.
Second-grade teachers Michelle Georgiou, Paula Kinkaid, Tiffany Trevenen and Shawn Cookston use the event's international pull to teach their students geography.
Placing Craig in relation to other locations is sometimes a new concept to second-grade students.
Most second-grade students don't understand the concept of city, state and country, Georgiou said.
Or, rather, they tend to confuse the concepts.
"They think Craig is a country," Trevenen said.
Studying the countries that are represented at the sheepdog trials helps students realize a wider world exists outside city limits.
Like Arnett, the four second-grade teachers use the sheep dog trials in a variety of subjects, including math and reading.
"It fits in across our curriculum," Trevenen said.