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Staff photo by Tim Barber/ Ivy Academy eleventh grade English students discuss identifying wolves with photographs at one of the learning stations inside English teacher Chassy Foster's classroom on Wednesday. From left are Adelia Burnette, Brayden Ladd, Aiden Dalzell and Aminah Hamidi.
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Staff photo by Tim Barber/ Ivy Academy English teacher Chassy Foster, center, talks about paw prints to Adelia Burnette, near left, Aminah Hamidi and Aiden Dalzell during a progressive learning stop about Red Wolves. The 11th-graders rotated from table to table Wednesday learning about positive impacts wolves have on the ecosystem.

Several local educators have teamed up to form curriculum geared toward changing perceptions about wolves, an effort largely aimed at teaching the importance of protecting endangered red wolves found exclusively in the Southeast.

The teachers have been using grant money to create wolf activity boxes they've sent to classrooms across Hamilton County.

"The reason we wanted to do this was because a lot of people, even in our area, didn't know this was a stand-alone species native to our region," East Ridge Elementary math and science teacher Stevie Davis said.

The boxes include educational lessons for students about red wolves, grey wolves and more. Now the teachers are working to ship the boxes out of state, to educators in North Carolina where the last remaining red wolves live in the wild.

There are only about 40 wild red wolves, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The rest are kept in captivity at rehabilitation centers such as Chattanooga's Reflection Riding Arboretum and Nature Center.

The idea for the project came from an environmental education program led by semi-retired educator Jim Watson.

Two teachers who met at the program — Davis, who teaches third grade, and Sale Creek seventh grade math teacher Veronica Mccuiston — worked together to construct a plan and put together a fund proposal in 2016. The teachers received the grant through the local Public Education Foundation's Fund for Teachers. They created the boxes and had them ready for the 2017 school year.

"What we're trying to do here is change the perspective of the wolf from big and bad to an important part of the ecosystem," Watson said.

The grant proposal was titled "The Little Red Riding Hood Lie."

The teachers argued wolves have been unfairly characterized as evil, menacing creatures in children's books, such as Little Red Riding Hood, and through popular culture.

"We wanted to bring awareness, and the best way to do that was to have teachers bring awareness to students," Davis said.

The boxes were in use Wednesday morning at Ivy Academy for Chassey Foster's 11th grade English class.

The students split into six groups. Each six-minute lesson focused on a different aspect of wolves. One group looked at children's books about wolves, another compared and contrasted skulls, and a third identified and described different types of wolves.

Each of the stations lasted six minutes and involved writing observations while Foster encouraged detailed, insightful language. It was English class, after all.

Foster had gone to a summer program with Davis and Watson. The program took the group to different states across the Southeast to learn about wolves. She planned to use the lessons in her teachings and believed it would make for good cross-curriculum studies — a staple of Ivy Academy.

The required summer reading for her class was American Wolf by Nate Blakeslee. Students then wrote reports about similarities between the wolf pack and historical figures.

One standout report came from Autumn Jerd, who compared the famous Druid Peak wolf pack to the Kennedys, and its leader to former president John F. Kennedy.

"Reading the book and studying, I think this needs to be such a bigger thing," Jerd said. "I basically compared JFK to the wolf leader of the Druid pack, comparing how they were strong, talented leaders who took pride in their family and were considered war heroes."

The teachers are now working with the nonprofit Defenders of Wildlife to send five or six wolf packs to educators in North Carolina near the wild red wolves population. About a dozen boxes have been used in classrooms in Hamilton County. Interested teachers can request a box from Davis at davis_stevie@hcde.org.

Contact Mark Pace with questions, comments, concerns or story tips at mpace@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659. Follow him on Twitter @themarkpace and on Facebook at ChattanoogaOutdoorsTFP.

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