In pursuit of higher education: First UM at LPHS day held

The Lone Peak Lookout

by Jolene Keller

Lone Peak High School students had a chance to learn from and ask questions of several University of Montana administrators and staff as part of the first UM at LPHS day on Monday.

"It was an inspiring day for our students," said Principal Anne Marie Mistretta. "They are now energized with the idea of attending college and also excited about obtaining college credits while still in high school. These were very relevant talks for us. So much of our geography and science curriculum are place based – what we study is very much immersed in the beautiful area in which we live."

The day started out with the UM provost Royce Engstrom speaking about the opportunity to attend college, be it technical school or the pursuit of a doctorate degree. Afterwards, students were able to ask questions.

"The students just swamped him," Principal Mistretta said. "They were so interested in what he had to say. Engstrom gave a truly inspirational speech that really got kids excited about college."

The first presentation of the day came from Rick Graetz, who gave a power point presentation on the Crown of the Continent, which focused on the northern Rockies from Seeley Lake into Canada. The presentation showcased spectacular photography from the area.

Next Rick Reese spoke next about the greater Yellowstone ecosystem that Big Sky belongs to. Reese is the former interim executive director of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, former director of The Yellowstone Institute in Yellowstone National Park, among many other involvements in environmental organizations.

Bob Eckey, northern Rockies regional director for The Wilderness Society rounded up the day with a presentation on conservation and preservation efforts in the region.

"It was an exciting day for the students. The kids were totally pumped about thinking about the future," said Mistretta. "We've been a high school for five months, and now it's time to think about college and careers.

Later that day the guidance counselor Anderson at LPHS was booked solid chatting with students about their future plans and making appointments to meet with students she couldn't fit in that day.

"One mom said her son called her in the middle of the day and all he could talk about was how inspired he was by the day. These are raw indicators it was a successful event," said Mistretta.

Tester chats with LPHS students

Taking the knowledge they gained during the UM at LPHS Day, students formulated questions to ask Montana Sen. Jon Tester during a videoconference held at the school on Tuesday.

"I think the kids got a lot out of the conference," said LPHS social studies teacher Cameron Johnson. "The opportunity to ask Tester questions connected well with the things we talked about with the UM folks, like wilderness management, tourism, and job creation."

With the opportunity to chat virtually face to face with Tester in Washington, D.C., students asked a variety of questions ranging from the wilderness bill Tester recently proposed to his opinion on sending more troops to Afghanistan. Other inquiries from students focused on how climate change will affect Montana and tourism, what heath care might be like in 2012, and ways to attract more tourism to our area.

Tester ended the conference by inspiring the students to remain interested in their government:

"I used to be a teacher, and one of the most fun things I do now is talking to young people. You're the ones who are going to be running this place very soon. This is your government too, and you need to be involved in it. In a few years you'll be voting and you'll be much better informed if you get involved now," Sen. Tester told the students.

This was the first videoconference of its kind at LPHS, and thanks to the school's highly technological framework, more conferences of this kind can be expected in the future.

"A lot of what we did in this facility was designed and equipped for the future. It can be extremely difficult to introduce some of these components into a facility after it's been built, so when we were constructing this school we received a large number of donations because of the kind of school we envisioned," said Mistretta.

With that vision of a technologically advanced curriculum in mind, students and teachers alike can look forward to more opportunities like Tuesday's, such as more videoconferences and online video science courses equipped with real labs.