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North Star Academy students learn about the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

The Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness created a curriculum for sixth through 12th grade students.

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North Star Academy students Hannah Rosendahl, left, and Lucy Erickson examine the teeth on the jaw from a red fox during class Monday, Nov. 22, 2021. Alison Nyenhuis of The Friends of the Boundary Waters brought the skull and others to the class as part of an education program helping introduce area students to the natural resources in their own backyard. Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

Lucy Erickson and Hannah Rosendahl, both 11, inspected an animal skull to figure out what it could be.

“I know what that one is,” Lucy said, pointing at the next table over. “You can tell by the teeth.”

The skull she pointed at had four big, orange teeth. It was a beaver, but Lucy and Hannah were still stumped on what animal their skull was from. Lucy’s first guess was a rabbit.

“My mom taught me something. If it looks like the eyes are on the side, it's probably a prey,” Lucy said.

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North Star Academy student Sebastian Fritz examines a beaver skull during class Monday, Nov. 22, 2021. Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

The two North Star Academy sixth graders were learning about the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and the animals that live there. They compared the teeth on their skull to the teeth shown on paper, and decided their skull was from an omnivore and ruled out that it was a rabbit. Next, they took measurements of the skull with a ruler and compared them to a list of omnivores and their skull measurements.

“It’s a raccoon,” Lucy said.

Turns out, it wasn’t. Lucy and Hannah realized they forgot to measure the skull with the jaw attached. Once they put the skull back together and took measurements for a second time, they determined the skull was a red fox.

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North Star Academy students Sarah Kate-Davis, from left, Hayden Slape, and Elizabeth Swap receive a bobcat skull from Alison Nyenhuis to examine Monday, Nov. 22, 2021. The students had to try to identify the skull from its characteristics. Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

This exercise of identifying animal skulls was part of the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness’s education program “Animal Adaptations in the BWCAW: Skull Investigation.” Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness Education Director Alison Nyenhuis visited North Star Academy to give this presentation to several classes.

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The presentation started with an introduction to the Boundary Waters and followed along with a weeklong trip two people took through the wilderness.
The sixth graders asked Nyenhuis many questions on topics ranging from the different types of animals that live there, to how people can carry everything they need on their backs, to what happens if someone gets lost.

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Alison Nyenhuis, education director with The Friends of the Boundary Waters, gives students at North Star Academy an introduction to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness before moving on to a hands-on learning experience Monday, Nov. 22, 2021. Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

While many people know the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness from the group’s advocacy against copper-nickel mining, the group does a lot more, Nyenhuis said. Its mission is to “protect, preserve and restore the wilderness character of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Quetico-Superior ecosystem,” and a big part of that is educating and connecting middle and high school students, she said.

“When I visit schools where I asked if anyone has heard of (the Boundary Waters), maybe one or two people raise their hands,” Nyenhuis said. “I oftentimes in those classes ask if students have heard of Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon and places that are farther away from them, and a lot of them have heard of those. So I think it's really great to bring awareness to students about what's in their own state.”

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North Star Academy students Sebastian Fritz, left, and Dale Blazier and teacher Luke Goossens examine the skull from a black bear Alison Nyenhuis brought to the school Monday, Nov. 22, 2021. Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

The "No Boundaries to the Boundary Waters" education program was funded by the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources. The Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness created a curriculum for sixth through 12th grade students.

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Nyenhuis said the curriculum is free for all teachers. They just have to sign up at friends-bwca.org/outdoor-education/classroom-materials and request information.

Emily Nelson, a teacher at North Star Academy, said the program has been great for the students.

“The kids love it,” she said. “Even the kids who have a hard time concentrating are really engaging with it and it’s just great to see.”

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