Fifth- and sixth-graders from Lowell Whiteman Primary School helped clean the Yampa River Core Trail last week during a three-day camping trip at the head of Sleeping Giant. From left are Wyatt Gray, Wilder Gray, Liam Hahn, Hill Fitzgerald and Andrew Matthews.
Nancy Spillane, director of school at Lowell Whiteman Primary School, said this year's enrollment was capped at 60 students, where it has been for the past five years.
"Unlike a lot of independent schools, we're full this year and we're blessed," she said.
The school's enrollment has grown from 32 students when it opened in 1993, she said. Spillane said more than 80 families were in the waiting pool this year to get their children into the school. She said the school has had a waiting list since it opened.
Steamboat Springs Lowell Whiteman Primary School students don't spend the first day of class playing get-to-know-you games.
By the time each school year starts - classes began Monday for the 2009-10 academic year - most students already know one another and their teachers. It's hard not to after spending three days camping with their families, classmates and teachers the week before school starts.
Students participated in the school's annual camping trip last week. The trip has occurred in all 17 years of the school's existence, Nancy Spillane, director of the school, said Tuesday.
Kindergartners through sixth-graders - the school has no seventh-graders this year - were on the Findell Matthews Ranch on the lower Elk River. The eighth-graders summited Mount Elbert in Leadville, separating from the rest of the school.
Math and science teacher Cindy Ruzicka said Tuesday that the camping trip makes the transition to the first week of school so much easier.
"It's a great way to form an identity," she said. "Three days in the woods equals about two months in the classroom in terms of relationship building."
She said the experiences students shared, from washing dishes to conquering the same hiking trail, allowed them to get to know one another by the time school started.
Science teacher Mick Paulis added that the camping trip also allowed the students, and their parents, to see teachers in a different light - outside of a traditional classroom.
"Every place is a classroom," he said.
Spillane said Lowell Whiteman Primary is all about outdoor education, and the camping trip allowed it to introduce that program to students, especially the younger ones, in preparation for winter and spring activities.
"We feel it's our duty to teach kids in this city how to survive," she said. "We take big responsibility for that."
Ruzicka and Paulis added that the camping trip's activities not only provided the students with outdoor education, they taught them perseverance, teamwork and preparedness, in addition to stewardship and conservation.
"Truly, our goal is to make these kids love and respect the outdoors," Ruzicka said. "And be lifelong learners in that."
This year, the fifth- and sixth-graders participated in a community service project as part of the camping trip, Spillane said. She said the group collected 14 bags of trash along the Yampa River Core Trail, from the James Brown Soul Center of the Universe Bridge to Backdoor Sports.
Spillane added that the students got so much into the act of picking up trash, they even started cleaning up Ninth Street before heading back to the ranch. She said the project was tough, and the kids "rocked" it.
"I felt really good afterward," said fifth-grader Eloise Borden, one of the Core Trail group members, who added that they got ice cream after their work. "We got to help the environment."
Sixth-grader Dominique Katthain had a theory about why the school does the camping trip each year.
"Maybe it's just a fun opportunity for everyone to meet each other," she said. "It's a lot of fun. There's a couple of different reasons. At night, we play campfire games."
Spillane said she's always loved the end-of-summer camping trip. For her, it's always been like a family gathering with students, their siblings, parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles.
"Everyone cleans, everyone cooks, everyone helps out," Spillane said. "It's a nice way for us to start the year."