West Virginia Firewise in the Classroom
The Need for Firewise in the Classroom in West Virginia
Young people can play a critical role in helping communities reduce the wildfire risk of homes by conducting Firewise Assessments. These assessments of a community are critical to planning and implementing mitigation to prevent homes from loss to wildfire. A community needs to know where its high-risk homes are, and what factors make those homes high risk. Many communities have very few paid staff, and do not have the resources to do an assessment. Middle and high school students are an untapped resource and as future home owners, it is in their best interest to make their community safe. Firewise West Virginia in the Classroom Project provides a unique, hands-on opportunity for students to use Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to assess the wildfire risk of their community and to educate their community on steps that can be taken to reduce that risk. The curriculum is correlated to national and West Virginia Academic Standards in Geography and Science. Through the Firewise in the Classroom Project, students gain content knowledge, apply new skills, are exposed to potential career paths, and provide valuable data to their community and state. Firewise West Virginia in the Classroom is modeled after Minnesota’s Firewise in the Classroom Project.
Background on establishing Firewise in the Classroom in West Virginia:
- Establishing and adapting the Minnesota DNR Firewise in the Classroom model to West Virginia
The EPCF has worked closely with the Rodger Ozburn and the West Virginia Division of Forestry (WVDOF) along with the Woods Homeowners Association (WHOA), Hedgesville, WV in helping WHOA to become the first Firewise Community in Berkeley County and the second in the state of West Virginia. Because of the limited number of staff in the WVDOF, the WVDOF and the Eagle Promise Charitable Fund worked together to establish and replicate for the state of West Virginia a model that has been successfully established in Minnesota by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MNDNR) and their Firewise in the Classroom initiative. Tom Eiber, retired from the MNDNR, worked closely with the WVDOF and the EPCF to establish this same program for the State of West Virginia. The MNDNR Firewise Communities program helps communities assess and reduce the risk of wildfire to homes. The Minnesota Alliance for Geographic Education (MAGE) has developed a standards-based, hands-on Firewise Communities project that integrates GIS and GPS technologies into the classrooms of local schools. This program utilizes a combination of students in local schools coupled with the technologies of GIS and GPS, which aids homeowners and communities as they become National Firewise Communities.
- Developing a model so other school districts could use
The EPCF worked with members of the administration of HHS to bring the MNDNR and its MAGE model to HHS. The MNDNR program has been adapted to meet all WVDOE curriculum standards. This program fits nicely with the recently announced “21st Century Schools that Work” program by the WVDOE, with HHS being one of the sixteen schools selected to be a participant in this program. HHS will be first school in the state of WV to help establish the model of the West Virginia Alliance for Geographic Education (WVAGE) program. The program model being put forward by the EPCF and the WVDOF and developed at HHS will be the model utilized by others when it is moved to other school districts in the state of West Virginia sometime in the future. The EPCF has been working closely with HHS Principal Don Dellinger, Assistant Principal Ron Lyons and science teacher Sun Schroyer from the planning to implementation of the Firewise in the Classroom Project. The WVAGE program initiative at HHS will not only familiarize the students to GIS and GPS technologies but give them hands on experience with the technologies. The Firewise in the Classroom program will also give the students the opportunity to interact with the varied constituencies within the community at large while working to help those communities become Firewise Communities. Those other constituencies include: local volunteer fire departments, the local home owners associations, and leaders in Berkeley County. This program will bring visibility both to HHS and its participating students.
Students conducting Level 1 Wildfire Risk Assessment
WV Firewise in the Classroom:
Technical Assistance available from:
Ken Pekarek, GIS 4 Schools LLC
Field Trip to Woods for L2 Assessment