By Rebecca LaFlure
Killeen Daily Herald
Sixth-grader Savannah Patton toured Las Vegas Wednesday before checking out the busy streets of Los Angeles.
"I like having the chance to get out of school and experience new things," said Patton, a student at Nolan Middle School.
Patton and her classmates went on a virtual cross-country adventure through the Google Earth program.
It was one of 32 stations set up at the Killeen Civic and Conference Center Wednesday to teach students how to apply geography lessons to their everyday lives.
In honor of Geography Awareness Week, the city of Killeen invited sixth-graders from Killeen, Copperas Cove, Belton and Florence to its fourth annual Geographic Information Systems Day.
"If it takes up space on the Earth, they use GIS to map it," said Colen Wilson, the city's GIS project manager and event coordinator. "It's a big educational event for the kids, and we hope we can get something to stick with them. … Maybe they'll think about a career in geography."
Wilson decided to create the event four years ago to educate students about GIS in a fun and interactive way. With no budget and only weeks to plan, Wilson and his co-workers scrambled to gather donations, sign on vendors and invite students.
The event continues to grow each year, he said. It went from serving 500 students the first year to serving nearly 1,500.
"It's taken on a lot of interest," he said. "We are the largest single-day GIS Day event in the world."
At one booth, representatives from Texas Parks and Wildlife explained how to use GIS technology to track animals and poachers. Fort Hood's 3rd Weather Squadron showed students how to track storms with satellite images.
The event wasn't limited to GIS tracking systems. Several booths encouraged students to recycle and take care of the planet.
Arriyanna Forch, a sixth-grader from Nolan Middle School, shuffled from booth to booth with her friends. She said her favorite part was watching a woman make a compost pile to use as fertilizer.
"That was fun," she said. "I get to be around my friends and see a lot of interesting things."
Contact Rebecca LaFlure at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7548.