Steamboat Springs Two dozen Routt County sixth-graders got down and dirty as they got close-up to their environment through the Yampa Valley Science School.
The school brought the sixth-graders together with high school-aged junior counselors and older senior counselors outside of the classroom. The goal of the school is to put students in a hands-on learning atmosphere, according to Gretchen Van De Carr of the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps.
"The main focus is place-based education. It integrates classroom experience with hands-on field experience," Van De Carr said.
The other focus is to bring the community together and link generations, she said. The group included middle schoolers and high schoolers from Hayden and Steamboat Springs.
The science school is a collaborative project spearheaded by the Youth Corps, but involving numerous local organizations and community members. Van De Carr said organizers want the school to become a yearly program for local sixth-graders. The pilot event two weeks ago during which the group spent three days in Columbine went very well, by all accounts.
"The response was really good," senior counselor Jennifer Shanahan said.
Before being selected, students had to write letters about why they wanted to be part of the science school. The letters were reviewed by teachers.
"I like outdoor things and learning about things I don't know," Steamboat sixth-grader Savannah Gebers said.
The students' days were busy, but the bulk of time was spent in two three-hour sessions on one of four topics: animals, plants, water and soil. They got to walk around trails and lakes and look for bugs or tracks firsthand.
"During school they just tell us things," Steamboat sixth-grader Niki DuBord said. "But when we went out there, we actually got to touch things."
The senior counselors trained the six high school counselors, who in turn taught the sixth-graders. The fact that high schoolers were teachers was a hit with the middle school students, who described them as "cool."
"They understand us more and they know how we feel," Gebers said. "They knew how to make it fun for us."
"They know how it feels to learn," Rachel Hilterbrand added.
Van De Carr said the experience went both ways. "The high schoolers got as much, if not more, out of it than the sixth-graders," she said.
While many of the students camp or live in rural areas, the school brought them closer to the intricacies and wonders of the natural world in the Yampa Valley.
"The kids came away with such awareness," Steamboat Springs Middle School science teacher Winston Walker said. "They don't have the privilege of going out for three-hour blocks of time and they were out there for three days."
"I go camping with my family, but this is a good experience to learn different things about nature that you wouldn't learn while camping," Delanie Kish said.
Van De Carr said the next step is to look at the evaluations and do a little fine-tuning, making recommendations for the future. She said organizers will work with both school districts to determine how the science school will operate and whether it will be for all students or be a student privilege.
To reach Jennifer Bartlett call 871-4204 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org