Lucas Vallejos, left, and another classmate use a meter stick to measure the volume of a creosote bush during a field trip to the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Park. [Photo: Michael Hernandez/KRWG-TV]

Seventh-grade students in the science magnet program at Sierra Middle School are participating in a long-term community project through which they are learning to gather data that is used to advance environmental science.

In June 2000, 7,000 gallons of diesel fuel spilled on the northern boundary of the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Park when construction crews nicked a pipeline that runs through the park while blading a road. Scientists used the accident as a case study to examine whether it is possible to restore native plants in areas degraded by human activity and if so, what’s the cheapest and easiest way?

Since 2006, the Asombro Institute has worked exclusively with seventh-graders in the school’s magnet program who visit the park and collect data twice a year. Under the guidance of their teachers and scientists from Asombro, the students conduct scientific surveys of 32 plots of land. Each plot has been treated with one of four mixtures of native grasses and cow manure — and has been fenced off with chicken wire to protect the vegetation from rabbits and other herbivores.

The students’ work was recently featured in a report by KRWG reporter Michael Hernandez.

KRWG-TV: Nature Park Visit Gives Sierra Middle School 7th Graders Chance to Plot Desert Data

“Giving students who are passionate about science the opportunity to learn in real-world scenarios is critically important,” said Las Cruces Public Schools Superintendent Greg Ewing. “These students are able to learn about science by gathering valuable data, and we are grateful for our partnership with the Asombro Institute and their willingness to include our students in this project.”

The students participating in the program are taught by Natalie Reno.

Students are also able to use the data they gather in an annual science project competition called the Desert Data Jam. The goal is to come up with creative ways to make scientific data available to a broader audience.

— Damien Willis, LCPS Director of Communications, 575-527-5811,