One Killeen teacher’s vision to take science outside seemed to take root this past spring, leading a procession of teachers, administrators and students to a parcel of river-fed ranchland south of town.
Parrie Haynes Ranch is steeped in the community’s history. Colorful former owners William and Parrie McBryde Haynes knew Texas governors personally. As bank president and property holders the Haynes helped lead Killeen from small farming and railroading to a full-fledged city.
Interested in a long-term project to teach science and revive native grassland, Ellison High School science teacher Jack Reed discovered the ranch. The pristine acreage combines dense brush, spring-fed streams and the broad currents of the Lampasas River.
Reed finished his third school year taking his Ellison students to the property for learning scientific concepts on the riverbanks, in the tall grass and among the trees, insects, frogs and fish.
Those Ellison science students completed 24 labs over the course of the past school year on the ranchland. They surveyed creeks, measured waterways and observed and recorded plant and animal life.
Property with promise
Convinced that the 4,000-acre property held promise for interdisciplinary study from science to art, math, history and literature, Killeen ISD curriculum leaders and secondary campus instructional specialists went on a field trip of their own to Parrie Haynes Ranch on April 13.
During that trip, Reed and other science teachers led the instructional specialists through a series of science lessons. That experiment proved a success.
The instructional specialists, who work alongside classroom teachers, searched for fossils along the Lampasas River. They used the Spark Science Learning System, handheld sensors that collect and report data ranging from weather to water samples to a person’s heart rate.
They walked down and back up a rocky hill that was once the bottom of a seabed and later hunting grounds for Indians. The educators easily transformed into students, learning and planning future lessons for biology, life science, geology and history.
“It’s all here,” said Patterson Middle School science teacher Diane Untalan. “Science is not really in the classroom, it’s here. Lack of experience is the issue. We have to get them out here.”
There are artifacts and fossils, native plants and wildlife, a frontier-era cabin and all manner of fish, birds, insects and mammals on the Parrie Haynes property near Maxdale Road 13 miles from Killeen.
The day before the educators toured sections of the ranch, Reed was on the property with one of his aquatic science classes. Students measured water flow at normal and flood stages and figured stream velocity.
“I love it,” said Collin Bennett, at the time an Ellison senior. “We grow as a class and we learn a lot. We learn in class, but it’s hard for a lot of people to sit and listen. Here, we’re doing what he’s talking about. I always look forward to it.”
“Everyone works together and it’s fun,” said Sarah Ruggles, another Ellison senior experienced in Reed’s science trips. “I would never think about river flow in a classroom. It’s more visual in nature.”
With just a month-and-a-half left in the school year, some of the campus leaders managed to arrange student trips to Parrie Haynes Ranch to get a taste of the learning possibilities for the future.
The largest was on May 29, when Eastern Hills Middle School instructional specialist Robert Burns took the school’s sixth-graders along with the science teachers and a handful of other teachers and administrators.
Taking the place of a traditional field day, the science day allowed students to race boats along the river. They examined erosion, observed topography and explored the variety of flora and fauna.
Grandeur of nature
As it always seems to be with children, teenagers and adults of all ages and professions, the grandeur of nature overflowed into learning through the sights and sounds of chirping frogs and a calm, welcomed breeze.
“A lot (of our students) have not seen deer tracks up close,” Burns said. “Seeing baby frogs in the river is a big deal.”
“We want to help them in the next grades and use what is here,” said eighth-grade science teacher Taylor Wusk. “They don’t necessarily understand it, but hopefully when we teach it later, they will.
“They can also catch frogs and enjoy being out here. I don’t think they see enough of the natural world,” the teacher said.
“I love it,” said sixth-grader Katrina DeLeon. “It has nature all over.”
“I love today,” said Untalan after sharing ideas with fellow educators. “We’re spreading the word and they will take it to campuses and get their departments excited and get students out here.
“Science is not in a classroom, it’s out here,” she said.
It’s out here, where a sea once stood, where Indians lived and a central Texas couple labored. It’s here where campers from inner cities find hope, where teachers see learning and where nature can transform to knowledge.