In the near future teachers will be returning to their classrooms. However, on Tuesday approximately 40 educators served as pupils as they learned methods on how to utilize Hannibal’s Sodalis Nature Preserve as an outside classroom.

In the near future teachers will be returning to their classrooms. However, on Tuesday approximately 40 educators served as pupils as they learned methods on how to utilize Hannibal’s Sodalis Nature Preserve as an outside classroom.

“We’re teaching them about the area so when they come back with their students they can take their students on hikes through the area and teach them about all the wonderful things Sodalis has to offer, including the history of the area and the mines, and why this area is ecologically important, why there are so many bats here and why it’s special for bats,” said Kathi Moore, a conservation education consultant for the Missouri Department of Conservation which organized the workshop in partnership with the Missouri Bat Census and the Hannibal Parks & Recreation Department.

The workshop attracted educators from a broad area.

“I believe we had 38 teachers for our program,” said Bat Census Executive Director Kirsten Alvey-Mudd, who led participants on a two-mile hike through Sodalis that began at 7 a.m. “They came from St. Louis, from up around the Iowa border, from all over the northeast Missouri region to not only learn about Sodalis Nature Preserve, but how Missouri Department of Conservation materials and interaction can be used to develop STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) programs and work with our Citizen Science programs in not just this park, but in their local parks, their backyard classrooms and now their classrooms in their schools, which will be pretty cool.”

Among the local participants was Melissa Flaspohler, who teaches sixth- through eighth-grade math and science at Holy Family School in Hannibal.

“I’m here today with two of my colleagues, one from each department – primary, intermediate and I represent middle school,” she said. “We are trying to get ideas so we can bring as many classes as we can down here and utilize the nature preserve, teaching them about everything from bats, looking at habitat, plants, and just getting them out and exploring this wonderful area.”

A field trip to Sodalis would be a new experience for Holy Family students, according to Flaspohler.

A Holy Family first

“We have not brought students here before. We do teach them about bats and caves throughout their education at Holy Family, but this will be the first time we’ve brought them here, hopefully this year,” she said.

Unlike Flaspohler, who reported she is not especially familiar with Sodalis, Quintin Heaton, who teaches Missouri Science and Ecology at Hannibal High School, knows the preserve like the back of his hand. Even with that knowledge Heaton was learning more Tuesday.

“I bring my kids (students) up here a lot, but I am getting some new stuff today,” he said, citing information about the rearing of young gray bats by their parents. “I can take that (information) back to the classroom and use it on my students, and when I bring kids out here, too.”

While Heaton and Flaspohler deal with students of different age groups, bats are a common interest.

“I’ve got a group of students that go out with Kirsten on a monthly basis and do bat counts with her. They’ve invested themselves into the concept of the bats here,” said Heaton.

“We actually have some bats that hang on the side of our school,” said Flaspohler. “They are very interested in bats. We utilize the Missouri Department of Conservation bat information and other videos and materials to teach them about bats.”

Tuesday’s workshop was a unique experience for its participants.

“This is the first time I’ve done a teacher workshop at Sodalis,” said Moore. “We hope to do another one next year and make this an annual thing until we get all the teachers in the area to learn more about this area and how they can use it in their classrooms.”

Alvey-Mudd credited a local civic group with helping make the inaugural workshop successful.

“We want to thank the Hannibal Rotary Club for the recent $8,000 grant they gave Missouri Bat Census,” she said. “We’re going to be teaching these teachers how to utilize these Citizen Science backpacks that their grant is affording us and how they can integrate it (information contained in the backpacks) into their classroom and how to use it here at Sodalis.”

Reach reporter Danny Henley at danny.henley@courierpost.com