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Duffy Students Spearhead 'Where the Blazes R U?'

This unique community action and service learning project, funded by a grant from the Foundation for West Hartford Public Schools, involves the town's 5th graders, who will be working to locate and map all of West Hartford's fire hydrants.

Clare Taylor’s 5th grade class at had some important visitors last week. Mayor Scott Slifka, Assistant Fire Chief Michael Sinsigalli, and West Hartford Police Officer Courtney Grant were the special guests at a planning meeting, led by students Cassidy Olechna and Miles Brown. The meeting was also attended by Cary Henderson from the store in Blue Back Square.

The planning meeting was the first phase of a unique project beginning this fall, and made possible by a grant from the Foundation for West Hartford Public Schools combined with funding from the elementary school PTOs.

As they begin work on "Where the Blazes R U," Taylor’s class will be leading an effort by all of West Hartford’s 5th graders to gather the coordinates and map the 1,500 fire hydrants located throughout West Hartford. Each school is will receive two Garmin GPS units from REI, and will use those devices to map the hydrants in their designated area. The students will also recruit residents to “adopt a hydrant” and mark it with a snow flag so it will be visible in heavy snowstorms.

The initial planning meeting allowed the students and officials to discuss the benefits of the project and ask questions about the work and other related topics. The Duffy 5th graders will spearhead the project, with tasks ranging from training other students in use of the GPS devices to sending out press releases about the progress of the effort.

The town wide effort will begin in earnest in late November or early December, with representatives from all 11 elementary schools meeting at . “My class will run the meeting, and train the other kids. Then they will go back and work with their own schools,” Taylor said.

According to Taylor, “Each school will use a Wiki for inputting their hydrant latitude and longitude and data. The final information will be added to the to assist them in locating hydrants in heavy winter storms.”

Taylor initially conceived of the idea for this project during a morning run, when she passed a fire hydrant and recalled receiving an email from the fire department asking residents to mark hydrants during heavy snows. She thought of a way that her students could help, and benefit the fire department as well as town residents.

Taylor was already involved with service learning, as part of Duffy’s National School of Character application process.

“Service learning is an approach where the kids find a problem and go into the community and actively learn to solve it.” She applied to the Foundation for West Hartford Public Schools for this grant, as well as several others, based on the service learning concept.

Taylor’s goal was to create a town wide project “that didn't require students to have a gift in sports, art, music or academic ability.” She also wanted to encourage the use of innovative technology throughout the district. “My students have been using GPS Technology for years and I thought it was time to get other students involved,” Taylor said in a release.

Once this project is complete, the students will still have the GPS devices and will be able to use them for other purposes. “Maybe we could start a town-wide Geo Bug race like the Great GPS Frog Race Duffy School did,” she added.

As the meeting progressed, the students became increasingly comfortable with their official visitors, and asked questions ranging from the difficulty of clearing fire hydrants in the snow, to the meals served in jail (egg sandwich and coffee for breakfast; plain burger – no cheese, ketchup, or fries – and soda for lunch and dinner, according to Officer Grant), to whether or not West Hartford has any fire dogs. (No, according to Chief Sinsigalli, who informed the students that Dalmatians originally were used by fire departments in England to keep the horses calm.)

For more information, contact Clare Taylor at 860-521-0110 or Clare_Taylor@whps.org.   

John Brice October 19, 2011 at 12:48 PM
This looks like an awesome project and a real service to the Town! Thank you, fifth-graders! - Captain John Brice, WHFD
Deborah Doyle October 19, 2011 at 08:37 PM
What a wonderful project for Duffy Fifth Graders and all the fifth graders in the district. Thank you to Ms. Taylor for organizing the project and to The Foundation for West Hartford Public Schools for funding it. Deborah Doyle
Catherine M. Carter October 24, 2011 at 02:52 PM
What a wonderful project Clare Taylor's class is undertaking! Keep up the very important work. Catherine Carter

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