Science school based in nature

Routt County students getting another chance to learn lessons in 'real world'

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— Ninety-six sixth-graders from Steamboat Springs and Hayden will have a chance to learn about the natural systems that govern the Yampa Valley during a special three-day science school later this fall.

The Yampa Valley Science School is the result of the Legacy Education Initiative funded by Great Outdoors Colorado, with a significant push from the staff at the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps.

"Our lofty goal is to someday involve every sixth-grader in the Yampa Valley," program coordinator Avrom Feinberg said. "I think the value in it is that it gets sixth-graders in touch with the Yampa Valley, in touch with older people and in touch with themselves."

The Legacy Project is using lottery proceeds administered by GOCo to protect land and ecosystems adjacent to the Yampa River from its upper stretches in south Routt, west to Moffat County. One portion of the program is devoted to place-based education for the valley's school students.

Katie Armstrong, a science and math teacher at Hayden Middle School, said she and her students took part in a pilot program held near Columbine last May.

"The kids got an incredible amount of extra knowledge from it," Armstrong said. "The kids were really excited about it. I think (this fall's school) will reinforce what they'll be learning in the classroom."

Feinberg is an administrator with the youth corps, but he gives credit to colleague Gretchen Van De Carr for conceptualizing the Yampa Valley Science School.

"It was Gretchen's spark of initiation that actually put it together," Feinberg said.

The school is being created with the cooperation of the public schools as well as a variety of local and regional organizations.

Feinberg said the school, which will be held at Euzoa Bible Camp in Strawberry Park, will be modeled after successful Keystone and Teton science schools. It will be held in two sessions, Sept. 25-27 and again Oct. 2-5. The two sessions will intermingle students from both the Steamboat and Hayden schools.

The school is funded by a grant $5,000 from the Steamboat Springs Rotary's Tango and Cash benefit, plus $3,750 from Legacy and $1,000 from the Anschutz Foundation.

Feinberg is writing the curriculum, which will be based around four primary resource areas water, plants, animals and soils. He originally came to Steamboat Springs to work with the U.S. Forest Service and became a team leader with the youth corps. He moved to Ecuador, where he taught school for two years, then came back to Steamboat Springs and taught at Whiteman Primary School for two years. He holds a degree in sociology, with a minor in environmental studies from Colorado College, and a master's in education from Boston University.

The students will spend two nights in cabins at the camp. Instructors will be 18 juniors and seniors from the two high schools in the Hayden and Steamboat districts who will serve as junior counselors, Feinberg said. Students from Colorado Mountain College also will be involved; six college interns will serve as senior counselors.

Along with learning about the natural environment, Feinberg hopes the students will learn from their peers from the other school districts, as well as from the older counselors.

Steamboat Springs Middle School teacher Winston Walker said his students who took part in the pilot program last spring benefitted from the concentrated study it offered.

"They had a chance to see how the subject areas of soil, wildlife, water and plants all related to each other," Walker said. "It was more effective than teaching 45- to 60-minute blocks of science.It was an immersion in outdoor education."

Walker added he was impressed with how well the older students had prepared to teach the younger students.

"I was amazed at how effective they were," Walker said.

The 48 students from Hayden will cover the entire class at the middle school. An equivalent number of students from Steamboat will be accepted on a first-come, first-served basis.

Students will received six, three-hour blocks of instruction. Classes run from 9 a.m. Monday until 5 p.m. on Wednesday. The fee is $50 per student.

Other individuals and organizations participating in the science school include Karen Vail of Yampatika/Partners in Interpretation; Libbie Miller of the Colorado Division of Wildlife, Mike Tetreault of the Nature Conservancy, Ann Davidson and Betsy Blakeslee of the Carpenter Ranch, C.J. Mucklow, CSU extension agent; Olive Morton of CMC, Sally Wither, Steve Otis and Jodee Anderson.

Feinberg can be reached at 870-6283. Armstrong, from Hayden Middle School, can be reached at 276-3762.

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