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Rural Leader to Develop Dust Bowl Curriculum for Schools

Rural education leader and Dust Bowl survivor Pauline Hodges will be creating a new curriculum that aims to help Oklahoma students become aware of the need to conserve land.

The Dust Bowl has been described as the "worst man-made ecological disaster in American history." The dust storms that occurred in the 1930s turned more than 100 million acres of topsoil into a lethal force, destroying farmlands and pushing families to abandon their homes in Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico.

Hodges helped develop a curriculum that was released last year in conjunction with the Ken Burn's film The Dust Bowl, which she was interviewed for and featured in on PBS. The new curriculum that Hodges is creating will incorporate interviews with survivors, excerpts of The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, and information about federal programs that helped farmers survive.

Student assignments will include writing and speaking, and they will study soil science and farming practices that contributed to the disaster. The Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts, which contracted with Hodges to create the new curriculum, hopes it will build a connection between the local districts and schools.

"Education is the key to making sure that we never again suffer a natural disaster like the one we experienced during the Dust Bowl," said Kim Farber, president of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts, a nonprofit organization representing 88 districts across the state. "Our hope is that by making this material available to our local schools through our conservation districts, we can ensure that the next generation of Oklahomans understand why it is so critical that we protect our natural resources. We learned the hard way in the 1930's what can happen if we don't take care of the land. Hopefully that's a lesson we never have to re-learn."

Hodges has been an educator for more than 50 years in public schools and at the university level, and she's a past board president for the National Rural Education Association.

The curriculum will be available only in Oklahoma for now, but the association is willing to explore the opportunity to bring it to other states, said Clay Pope, executive director of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts. He said the plan is to provide at no cost to all of the state's conservation districts: the new curriculum developed by Hodges; the full, four-hour Dust Bowl documentary; PBS material; and a 40-minute DVD highlighting different aspects of the film.

For more information or to access the curriculum, call (405) 699-2087 or e-mail claypope@pldi.net.

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