'Where in the Blazes R U?' Kicks Off with Training at Town Hall

Clare Taylor's 5th grade class from Duffy Elementary School, which is spearheading the fire hydrant mapping program, led a training session for representatives from other elementary schools.


A four-hour training session held in Room 314 is an ordinary occurrence. However, what made Thursday's "Blazes Launch Meeting" unusual is that the training session was led entirely by a group of 5th graders from Duffy Elementary School.

The Blazes Launch Meeting was the official commencement of a town-wide effort to map fire hydrants using GPS technology. The project also includes recruiting residents to adopt hydrants by placing stakes on them when it snows, and/or volunteering to clear snow from around the hydrant. Ray Bottass from NCMI donated the stakes.

A , which was the first phase of this unique project, was held in Clare Taylor's classroom in October. "Where in the Blazes R U?" is the manifestation of an idea that Taylor first had on a morning run last winter, and has been made possible by a grant she applied for from the Foundation for West Hartford Public Schools combined with funding from the elementary school PTOs.

The project's goal is being implemented by the town's 5th graders, who are learning to use GPS technology to map the coordinates of all 1,500 fire hydrants in West Hartford. They hope to map half of the hydrants before the end of this school year. The students will be using a wiki to input the longitude and latitude data for each hydrant. The project will benefit town residents as well as the , and is a great example of service learning, where kids go out into the community to solve a problem.

The Blazes Launch Meeting was attended by Taylor's class as well as two 5th grade representatives from each of the other public elementary schools in West Hartford. Several teachers, parent volunteers, and fire department representatives Mike Sinsigalli and Neal Fisher also attended. Students circulated through project centers where they discussed how to approach neighbors about adopting hydrants, enter data into the wiki, use the Garmin GPS units, and how to share their knowledge with the other 5th graders back at their schools.

teacher Anthony Weber was in attendance as a site coordinator. "What's really nice about this project is that it's completely student-led and student-directed," he said. Weber said that Bugbee's representatives, Anne Tulikangas and Meghan O'Shea, were two of the more than 20 students who "applied" for the job. As part of the process of choosing representatives, Weber asked volunteers to answer several long-response questions dealing with their commitment to and willingness to help the community.

The Bugbee representatives will act as project coordinators for their school, and now have the responsibility for presenting what they have learned to fellow classmates and training them to implement the project.

"Every student will have the opportunity to participate," said Weber. "This is going to be fun for the kids and a great example of service learning."

Weber is confident that if students check out the GPS devices at least two or three times a week, the project of mapping all 120 hydrants in the Bugbee district will be completed before the end of the school year.

Taylor was overseeing the project center where students were instructed on how to use the database and maps of their school districts supplied by the MDC. However, it was Duffy student Sydney Anderson who described the process of filling out the hydrant recording form to the other 5th graders. "Put in the latitude and longitude and the names of everyone who went with you," she explained.

Denise Jaffe, instructional software coordinator for the , was responsible for the wiki project center, but immediately pointed out that although she set up the wiki, "the kids are doing all the work." Jaffe explained that the wiki is a Google document, which can be accessed and modified by all students who have been given a user name and a password. The FAQ section is being monitored by Taylor's class on a regular basis.

Jaffe thinks that using the wiki to collect and tabulate the data will add to the students' learning experience. "Every student has equal access, and they understand that when they make a change, everyone sees it. It's serious responsibility, and part of 21st Century learning, with service learning built right in. It's beautiful!" Jaffe said.

All meeting attendees were provided with a "Where in the Blazes R U?" t-shirt with a logo designed by Duffy student Miles Brown. When asked how he came up with the idea for the logo, Brown said, "First I started out with a realistic-looking hydrant, but then I thought it would be better if it was cuter." Brown drew his design on paper, and with the help of classmate Phoebe Carter's father, Don Carter, the design was computerized and made into iron-on decals for the students' shirts.

The students headed outside after lunch for some hands-on training and demonstrations from the fire department about hydrant operation. They were all very enthusiastic, and eager to get started on "Where in the Blazes R U" back in their own schools.


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