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The Hamilton Middle School Keystone Program and 4-H are collaborating on an exciting science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) opportunity that enriches young lives weekly. 

The two groups received a grant for a hands-on STEM educational program called Science Action Club developed and supported by the California Academy of Sciences.

Verna Massey, Montana State University Extension 4-H mentoring site manager, completed training at MSU Extended University on “Bugs in Your School Yard.” The curriculum teaches students to use science to research and explore.

Each week students learn aspects of science.

Thursday’s lesson was on collecting bugs, looking for arthropods, identified by an exoskeleton, segmented body, jointed arms and legs.

“Entomologists are trying to document every insect out there,” Massey told the students. “Some of them are disappearing at an alarming rate so they are asking all of us all over the nation to help take inventory.”

The students searched in grass, bushes and under rocks to collect arthropods using bug nets, pooters, beating sheets and Petri dishes. They took photos of the insects and uploaded the images to the California Academy of Sciences, where scientists immediately responded with the identification of the insects.

In 20 minutes, the students found aphids, spiders, worms, roly-poly bugs, beetles and centipedes.

Joe Byrne, Keystone director, said the collaboration between the 4-H mentor program and Keystone works well in their fifth year of partnership.

“It’s been a fantastic year cooperating with Verna,” Byrne said. “It’s been growing exponentially every year.”

Byrne said the program taps high school students for their energy and love of kids to be mentors, examples of quality citizens and good behavior.

The program uses the 4-H mentor and mentee students for the STEM grants and Citizenship Club that alternates weeks and teaches the value of community, state and nation.

Keystone has 100 registered students from Kindergarten through eighth grade and a separate high school group. Five Hamilton school district employees work with students to improve their academic skills. Keystone students learn in the after school program through tutoring, the (on-line) Kahn Academy, a book club, group activities that teach teamwork, archery and Engineering Club. In the spring, the program coordinates a youth fly-tying clinic called Bitterroot Buggers with the help of Trout Unlimited.

“The grant wants us to reach out to community non-profits and other organizations,” Byrne said. “We do things with the Bitterroot College and other groups. We do all-day activities on days when there is no school, like swimming and cross-country skiing. We offer a lot and everyone seems happy, parents and kids are loving it.”

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