• Alliance at Meek students combine science and media skills to produce book

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     Alliance at Meek students

    The Alliance at Meek book crew at one its trips to Opal Creek.

    The question at the heart of the book created and published by students at Alliance High School at Meek is simply: “Can I eat it?” The book, “Field Guide to the Fungi of Opal Creek,” was a collaborative effort between the school’s science and media wings.

    The book shows and describes 34 mushroom species found in the Opal Creek Scenic Recreation and Wilderness Areas, located in the Willamette National Forest. It combines the knowledge and skills learned by students under Joe Ferguson, who teaches Natural Resources, and Amy Taramasso, who teaches Digital Media.

    Each mushroom is shown in vivid photos, most taken by Alliance students, and described in text written by students, who thoroughly researched each fungi. At the top of each entry is the big question: is the mushroom edible? The answers are varied. For example:

    Flat-Top Club Coral: “Yes, it has a sweet flavor and can used in sweet or dessert dishes.”

    False Morel: “No! It is deadly poisonous – in fact, it contains gyromitrin, an unstable compound that hydrolyzes into monomethylhydrazine, a compound used in rocket fuel.”

    "We were really cognizant of the fact that mushrooms are both really interesting and can be really dangerous,” Taramasso said. “We were very careful with our work.”

    Field Guide Ferguson had taken his students to Opal Creek for years, and in a conversation with Megan Selvig, an Opal Creek director, learned that there was a professionally-produced guide about amphibians in the area, but not one about fungi. At a summer training at Meek, he raised the idea with Taramasso about using a grant the school had received for project-based learning to produce a book.

    "Joe said, ‘I can bring the science expertise if you can bring the publishing and layout and graphic and visual media piece,’” Taramasso said. “I said that sounds terrifying and exciting and really ambitious, but I'm in.”

    Planning took place over the summer, and after the students received training, the group went to Opal Creek to find the fungi. Staff there helped with identifying mushrooms to photograph and to take back to the class for inspection and identification.

    One challenge was that October was a drier-than-normal month, so the forest wasn’t wet enough for all fungus to grow enough for students to photograph. That forced them to go to outside sources for photos, an intended learning opportunity.

    “That was a really great experience for the kids because I got to teach them about fair use and copyright,” Taramasso said. “It was the best opportunity I've ever had to teach students about copyright. It's integral to digital media, making sure that you're using things appropriately.”

    The project became important enough to students that one, Ace Swanson, who had already earned enough credits to graduate, came back in the fall to help lay out and complete pages.

    The school published an initial run of 250 copies as a first edition, and Taramasso said she and Ferguson hope to create future editions with more entries, and possibly get it co-branded with Opal Creek so it can be sold at its Forest Center.

    Students who worked on the book were Natalie Mindra, James Ericson, Suley Vazquez, Arturo Garcia-Gonzalez, Viridiana Garcia-Olvera, Bear Slates, Kayla Ford, Jeremy Bowen, Zach Kelly, Torense Weldon, Aurora Rose, Will Morrison and Ceanna Beavers. Seng Saechao, an employee of Oregon State University’s Urban 4-H program and a community partner at Alliance at Meek, helped with photos.