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Hunting for clues to crimes in nature

Forest Hills — Abby McConnell said she’s seen a lot of beer bottles in the woods near her house, “and a bunch of other trash too.” Now, the Central Middle School eighth-grader knows that’s not just a nuisance — in many Michigan counties, it’s a crime.

“You have to pick up everything you bring and take it with you when you leave,” noted Addie Oderkirk.

The pair were part of a group of students in Lea Sevigny’s Natural Expressions class who examined simulated crimes in nature, then identified clues that would help them determine “whodunit” and what, if any, local conservation laws were broken.

Other clues left at the site of the mysterious bottles included a dark jacket, boot prints and, another girl noticed, a trail camera mounted nearby that might have recorded the activity.

About 140 seventh- and eighth-graders in the class walked to a wooded area behind the school, where classmates had staged various scenarios including poaching, hunting out of season or without a license, and trespassing.

Class Explores Outside World

During the semester-long elective that has been offered for at least three years, Sevigny introduces students to the great outdoors via bird-watching; berry, wildflower and invasive plant picking; and conservation.

She was inspired to create the nature and hunting crimes assignment from a workshop she attended a few years ago at a Michigan Alliance for Environmental and Outdoor Education Conference. 

Students used DNR Hunting Digests and Conservation Officer Bi-Weekly Reports to learn about real-life scenarios. Then the groups made props to leave at simulated crime scenes. Props were made primarily out of cardboard, but students also brought in stuffed animals or other items from home, then worked in groups as conservation officers.

“Students are learning that regulated hunting is an important part of conservation efforts,” Sevigny said. “They also learn about the career path of DNR conservation officers … there’s so much positive happening, involving stewardship of our natural resources.”

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a reporter and copy editor, covering Kent ISD, Forest Hills and Northview. She is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio

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