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Frisco High School Senior to Spend Spring Break Observing Primates (March, 2007)

Grace Gulley is going to a tropical getaway for Spring Break. She will undoubtedly pack sun screen but the trip will not be a lazy day on the beach. She will be spending long days in the Costa Rican country side observing monkey troops, armed with a Global Positioning System device and binoculars.

The Frisco High School senior has been selected by Earthwatch Institute to join a team of volunteers working with an Ohio State University anthropologist collecting data about the monkeys and their daily lives. She is going through the Jane K. and John P. Wilson Fellowship Program and was recommended by teacher Heather Marshall.

On the Costa Rica trip, Gulley will join three other high school students in recording the daily life of the primates. “We will be studying the effects of human disturbance in the primate population, the loss of their habitat and the stress that is put on the animal’s diet by humans,” she said.

Gulley has always been a “science freak,” she says and moving from her small high school in Brock, Texas to FHS for her final two years of high school has allowed her to really expand her knowledge and devote herself to her passion. Heather Marshall, an award-winning FHS instructor, took the time to get to know her when she transferred and to help her deal with the challenges of a much larger high school. “My old school had one hall!” Grace said, noting that Marshall and Danny Lozano, her dance teacher both noticed she was a little overwhelmed by her new environment. Marshall, who taught Gulley in Geology, Meteorology and oceanography last year and began teaching her aquatics class this year, encouraged Gulley to apply for the Earthwatch Institute and had planned to accompany her student. But a family health situation caused Marshall to leave Frisco for this year. Marshall introduced Gulley to FHS Assistant Principal Van Simpson and his wife, independent study teacher Laura Simpson, both of whom have encouraged Gulley during her grant application process.

Marshall explained in a telephone interview that a friend in a state organization for science teachers contacted her about the program, asking if she was interested in going and if she had a student who was either a junior or senior and in GMO who might be interested. “Grace had already had GMO and she was my top student. She was the first student I thought of. Originally, I had them hold a spot for me and Grace but I wasn’t sure I could do it so I told them to just hold the spot for Grace while she filled out the application form.”

“This is a neat opportunity for Grace. She will be using a lot of the technology she was introduced to in Frisco. We used a GPS system in class. She will use a hand held GPS in the field to map the routes the animals use,” Marshall said, speaking warmly of her student who is now caring for the freshwater aquarium the teacher had to leave behind at FHS and whom she gave her own saltwater fish collection. “She is a very responsible person. She volunteers to do things without being asked,” Marshall said.

Gulley is a true animal lover and is already concerned about the loss of natural habitats in the world. She has already traveled to Alaska and become concerned about the fate of polar bears who have been dealing with the warming of the artic seas. She is following news stories about the birth of panda cubs in China. She frets about her own family dog – a cattle dog that has had to adjust from a rural environment to a small, fenced backyard. She says she worries about the native animal population being displaced by the development in Frisco. She has spent time watching coyotes wandering her neighborhood streets because their native habitat has been taken over by construction. “I know we are an economically-driven society but they were here first, people have moved into their world,” she said.

This experience has helped Gulley expand her knowledge of the world in many areas. The student filled out her own paperwork, got her letter of recommendation together, and endured shots “I don’t like needles,” she admitted. She has also with making airline reservations. Her parents paid for the travel costs but Gulley says she is hoping to raise money to pay them back.

It is the absent Ms. Marshall that Gulley credits with everything she has learned and will learn. “This trip is for her,” Gulley says.