Students drop their books for hands-on learning

Winter Studies Day gives children, educators a break from mid-winter blues

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If school quarters were animals, the third quarter would be the ugly duckling.

The 64 calendar days that pass between Jan. 16 and March 19 can be brutal for teachers and students alike, as Soroco Middle School science teacher Kate Hayne knows all too well.

Unlike the other quarters, which bring with them the enthusiasm of a new school year, the vacations provided by Thanksgiving, Christmas and other holidays, and the excitement of spring and summer, the third quarter runs uninterrupted save for a weeklong vacation.

And it reaches the peak of its misery this month, Hayne said.

"February is a rough month," she said. "The third quarter goes (on) forever."

But for the past 11 years, a Winter Studies Day organized by Hayne has given the ugly duckling a bit of a makeover.

This year's Winter Studies Day was Wednesday, when about 70 Soroco seventh- and eighth-graders were bused to Stagecoach Reservoir State Park to participate in a variety of activities.

"Our goal is to make this a positive day for everybody, and for 11 years it has been," Hayne said. "It ties in group work, responsibility and learning."

From ice fishing and snowshoeing to orienteering and environmental art, Winter Studies Day provided something new for any student willing to give it a try.

And to top it all off, the students have a blast every year, Principal James Chamberlin said.

"They many not always realize the things they're learning because they're having fun doing it," he said while refereeing a student game of broomball at the state park. "It's a day we all look forward to."

For many students, Winter Studies Day is a school day they won't soon forget, Hayne said.

Lindsay Ellis, who bagged a 3-pound trout while ice fishing Wednesday, might be one of those students. Colorado Division of Wildlife employees led the ice-fishing station and also showed students how to properly gut a fish.

Other stations included orienteering, snow-cave building, snow sculptures, cross country skiing and environmental sculpture art, which was led by art teacher Cindy Wither. Students used only natural materials such as dirt, snow and twigs to create geometric shapes and patterns in the snow.

Parent volunteer Claudia deCosta taught students how to cook in the great outdoors, where kids can't rely on microwave ovens for food preparation. High school student Brandon Allen gave students two matches and their choice of fire putty, steel wool or newspaper to build a fire.

Even Superintendent Steve Jones got in the act, shuttling students to the hydroelectric dam at the reservoir.

Chamberlin said the Winter Studies Day emphasizes place-based education and student understanding of the environment and its ecosystems.

None of it would be possible, however, without the time commitment volunteered by teachers, parents, community members and DOW and Colorado State Parks staff, Chamberlin and Hayne said.

A grant from the Legacy Education Foundation helped offset some of the costs of Wednesday's Winter Studies Day.

-- To reach Brent Boyer call 871-4234

or e-mail bboyer@steamboatpilot.com

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