Environmental literacy is becoming an increasingly important part of national and state curriculum standards. Scientists can assist teachers by providing citizen-science research opportunities and other educational outreach programs for local students. Middle school students from Summit Charter School in Cashiers, Jackson County, NC, in conjunction with a roadside litter cleanup community-service project, assisted researchers from the Highlands Biological Station who were examining discarded bottles as a source of smallmammal mortality. Students sorted and weighed recyclable materials and inspected open bottles for small-mammal remains. They collected approximately 141 kg of trash along 2 roads near their school, 59.4% of which was recyclable material consisting primarily of glass and plastic bottles. Students removed 8 specimens from 5 bottles, including 6 Blarina brevicauda (Northern Short-tailed Shrew), 1 Sorex cinereus (Masked Shrew), and 1 S. fumeus (Smoky Shrew). Students learned to distinguish small-mammal skulls based on dentition and other cranial characteristics while using dichotomous keys, and reconstructed skeletons using anatomical diagrams traditionally used for owl-pellet dissections. Educational programs that incorporate immersive, hands-on, real-world experiences, especially those that use the local community as a framework, can enhance students' appreciation for the natural world and provide the knowledge and skills they will require to make informed environmental decisions as future community leaders.
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Vol. 16 • No. sp10