Placed-based education takes root

Districts create strategies to keep programs going as funds fade

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— With clippers in hand, Jeff Dawes cut down the prickly leaves of a Canadian thistle to just a stubble Friday morning. Nearby four of his classmates could be found pulling up hounds tooth and dumping the plants in garbage bags as their Rocky Mountain Youth Corps leader, John O'Neill pointed to plants that needed to go.
"We're helping preserve the Riparian Forest," Dawes said.
Dawes was one of more than 50 Steamboat Springs sixth graders that could be found pulling thistles and hounds tooth or collecting water at the Carpenter Ranch in the final day of the Yampa Valley Science School. As part of a community service project, the sixth graders spent the last day of a weeklong outdoor camp helping preserve a stretch of land along the Yampa River outside of Hayden.
Sponsored by the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps and Yampa Valley Legacy Education Initiative, the science school gives all sixth graders in Steamboat Springs and Hayden middle schools and the Lowell Whiteman Primary School a chance to experience their natural environment hands-on.
"It makes education more meaningful," said Amy Pankonim, South Routt and Hayden's placed-based education curriculum coordinator. "Using their books doesn't always have meaning for students."
It is just one of the many placed-based education programs that area schools have initiated since the Yampa Valley Legacy Education Initiative began in 1997.
Sorocos fifth graders also attended an outdoor education camp on Lynx Pass near Stage Coach this week where they learned about bats and their natural ecosystem.
On Thursday seniors from Soroco High School visited South Routt Elementary School students to help them study the Yampa River.
In 1997, placed based education was brought into the schools through an $864,945 three-year grant for five school districts along the Yampa River.
That grant allowed the schools to implement programs for students to study the cultural and ecological heritage of the area. Throughout the school year, schools shared projects like Ranch Day where elementary school children learned about the area's ranching heritage or went on field trips to study their natural environment.
Steamboat's Superintendent Cyndy Simms said the main goal of placed-based education is to reconnect the public schools with the community.
"We wanted kids to acquire civic responsibility before they leave the school," Simms said.
Combined with the Moffat County and East Grand School districts, the three county school districts formed the Yampa Valley Legacy Education Initiative and used the grant money from the Walter Amberg Foundation to train teachers, develop programs and support programs in placed-based education.
But, with the grant money stretching into its fifth year, school districts find its not only the riparian forest along the Yampa River that needs to be preserved, but the projects that studied it as well.
In December, the Yampa Valley Legacy Education Initiative will dissolve with funding ending at the end of the school year. But, all three school districts have hired placed-based curriculum leaders to make sure that the programs remain after the money is gone.
Marcia Martin is working part-time with Steamboat so current placed-based activities are well documented to allow incoming teachers to continue the themes established through the Yampa Valley Legacy Education Initiative.
"I'm coordinating placed-based education activities with teachers at different grade levels. We're making sure it fits into the curriculum and meets content standards," she said.
She also is working on a Web site that will become a resource database for teachers to use when adding placed-based education into their curriculum.
Hayden and South Routt school districts will be using Pankonim to integrate placed-base education into the regular curriculum.Pankonim said she also would be looking for grants to help fund programs already in place. Though she said there is not a grant large enough to sustain the whole program, there are smaller grants for individual projects.
Despite the end of the Yampa Valley Legacy Education Initiative, Pankonim and Martin both said that placed-based education is here to stay in local classrooms.
"It's going to be a lot more a part of the regular curriculum," Martin said.

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