Tahoe students rewarded with Disneyland trip for recent bat house project

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE - The Lake Tahoe Environmental Magnet School was recognized by Walt Disney Co. on Thursday with an award for environmental stewardship among schools throughout California.

Bob Comlossy's fifth-grade class was selected as the state winner of the 2006 Jiminy Cricket's Environmentality Challenge for their project "Build it and They Will Come: Bat Houses for the Cookhouse Meadow Restoration." The project was designed to help restore and replenish the bat population at the meadow, located on Highway 89.

Along with the coveted honor, the 32 students who participated not only have an award-winning science project under their belt but will be going to Disneyland as a reward.

"This is really, really, cool. We won," said Austin Sharon, an 11-year-old fifth grader at the school.

Comlossy had twice entered his class in the Disney environmental science challenges, and both times the projects were honored as runners' up. But somehow he knew this particular class was different.

"I knew it was a good and sustained project. The kids had to stay with it, from the beginning until the end," he said. "They were highly motivated and impressed by what they learned. It was more than learning about bats and the environment. They also learned how to initiate a project and bring it to fruition, learning what it takes to work on a deadline."

More than 1,000 schools from around the state entered their projects into various Disney environmental stewardship contests. Some 30 schools, including the magnet school, entered into the more comprehensive, competitive and prestigious project program, which includes the all-expense paid Disneyland trip for the winning school.

"This is an outstanding group of students. We couldn't be more pleased with the project," said Kate Diranna, manager of environmental relations for the Walt Disney Co.

"The kids were able to take on one project and in this one experience they not only learned about the environment, but they were also able to learn state standards in science, math and language arts," she added. "They were able to demonstrate a true understanding for the content areas."

The project to build eight bat houses capable of holding up to 300 of the winged mammals was sponsored by the Tahoe Area Sierra Club. The Sierra Club gave the class $700 to work on the project. Others donated time, labor and building materials.

The project began in December, with presenters explaining to the class how a lack of habitat decreased the number of bat species from 10 to seven, Comlossy said.

Students learned bats are vital to the ecosystems allowing plants to grow and feeding on pests like mosquitos.

Many students said it was the best project they ever did in school. At least one student, Cassandra Marin, said she is no longer afraid of bats.

"I used to believe when I was little that vampire bats draw blood and kill you. They really don't. They're good for the ecosystem because they eat insects," said the 10-year-old fifth grader.

The project involved attaching four boxes to trees along the rim of the meadow. They were placed at least 12 feet above the ground and facing the sun. Recorders to track the usage and temperature will be placed in each box, U.S. Forest Service Biologist Mollie Hurt said.

Although the boxes weren't included in the plan for the meadow's restoration, which included a $900,000 realignment of a creek because of past cattle grazing and nearby road construction, Hurt said the additions were welcomed.

When thriving, the meadow is home to deer, birds, bats, fish and insects. It should also filter sediments before they enter Lake Tahoe.

• Reporter writer William Ferchland contributed to this story.


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