Steamboat Springs Mindy Mulliken’s classroom looks like most. Rows of desks face a long chalkboard. Her desk and computer sit at the entrance of the room.
But for the fifth-year Steamboat Springs Middle School math and science teacher, it’s not always about what the four walls of her classroom hold.
There is, as Mulliken pleads with students, a whole way of learning outside the walls of a building.
Equations and theories are certainly important. But the minute Mulliken came to Steamboat from Crested Butte, she saw another project and another way of teaching through the school's Everything Outdoor Steamboat, or EOS, program.
“When I got here I jumped on it immediately,” she said.
The program, started in 2004 by former teacher Matt Tredway, hosts outdoor trips for middle schoolers. They go on bike rides across Emerald Mountain, horseback tours in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area, fly-fish on the Yampa River, climb 14,000-foot peaks, snowshoe and, in the most recent example, tackle overnight ski trips on Rabbit Ears Pass.
“My big hope is they have an appreciation and respect for all the amazing opportunities we have in Steamboat,” Mulliken said. “We want them to embrace the culture that we live in.”
On the trip to Rabbit Ears, Mulliken and fellow teacher Ben Barbier escorted a group of nine students up to the pass for a backcountry ski trip.
The students were given a list of gear to have before heading out. Backdoor Sports provided skis, skins and other equipment for students who didn't have their own.
The focus of the trip was learning about avalanche danger, so the group buried and searched for beacons and learned about the angles involved with avalanches.
From there, they skied, built a jump, made a fire and cooked meals.
“I didn’t even know what a beacon was,” eighth-grader Abby Vander Graaff said. “It was my first time doing that. It was really cool. I’ve done Alpine but I’d never been to the backcountry. It was really cool to do the backcountry.”
The program was started in 2004 by Tredway with the belief that being the outdoors is a great way to teach students life lessons outside the confines of a classroom.
Through the years, the group has climbed Mount Harvard, taken to Rabbit Ears before, ice climbed and built igloos, among other things.
“It really opened my eyes to everything that is out there,” said eighth-grader Quincey Pugh, who took an overnight horseback riding trip in the the Zirkels with EOS.
The group draws a large part of its funding from the annual middle school tree sale in April. Proceeds from that help fund trip costs. Mulliken said the group takes an average of one trip a month.
Mulliken helps lead a pair of bike trips and the backcountry skiing trip. There are six to 10 teachers who help lead the program, and Mulliken said the effects of the trips on students are readily apparent.
“They’re more relaxed,” she said. “They have a better rapport with me. It helps them in the learning environment. They see you as more of a human being.”
Although some of the nine students who went on the recent Rabbit Ears Pass trip had been in the backcountry before, it was a first-time experience for many of them.
Realizing what it took to skin up and then telemark ski were challenges. But each student said the opportunity to do something they rarely get to do was even better than missing a day of school.
“It was just connecting to the outdoors,” Charlie Fisher said. “It gave us the opportunity to go out and be active.”
The activity also brought together a group of students that may not have connected otherwise in school. Although the program is open to all students and its upcoming trips are posted in the school and announced over the intercom, eighth-graders get preference because it’s their final year in the program.
“It wasn’t just a day off of school,” Colton Creamer said. “You got to hang out with another group of kids. I have my little group I hang out with. With this I got to meet and hang out with new people.”
For Mulliken, the trips are an integral part of teaching and learning. She came to Steamboat after teaching at the Crested Butte Academy, where half the day was spent in the classroom and the other half on the ski mountain.
“A full day outside is awesome,” Vander Graaff said. “It’s not something I get to do very often. It’s calming but tiring. I learned and realized that I could do something like this.”
For more information about EOS or to help fund an upcoming trip, email Mulliken at email@example.com.
To reach Luke Graham, call 970-871-4229 or email lgraham@SteamboatToday.com