Yampa Valley High School uses Fridays to get out of the classroom | SteamboatToday.com

Yampa Valley High School uses Fridays to get out of the classroom

Ben Ingersoll

— Spend a Friday afternoon with Yampa Valley High School teachers and students, and you just might get your hands dirty or sport a set of sore legs Saturday morning.

Every Friday, the school's few dozen students leave behind the world of books, notes and lectures and hit the trail or partake in service learning projects.

From Week 1 to graduation in June, every student at YVHS (the school has a maximum of 28 students) goes on a school-wide hike, sometimes at Emerald Mountain or Cow Creek when the trails are dry. When they aren't, students strap on snow shoes and make tracks at Rabbit Ears Pass, anything to get the students out of a seat and into the environment.

"It gives these kids a chance to get out of the classroom and really get to know one another," YVHS language arts teacher Sarah Peed said.

On Friday, the school took the city bus to the Yampa River Botanic Park, the site of its graduation ceremony, where eight students will walk this year. There, the students, Peed and YVHS math and science teacher Anna Becker helped clear brush, rake leaves and prepare potted plants at the Trillium House.

But Fridays aren't just meant for the YVHS students to escape the confines of a classroom. It's an expansion of their regular Wednesday physical education curriculum and also serves as a science component. This winter, students analyzed snowpack conditions on Rabbit Ears, Peed said.

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It's not always easy for the students, Peed admits, especially when the school year kicks off. But in the long run, the results are obvious.

"At the beginning of the year, they all kind of hate it," Peed said. "The hikes can be hard, but at the end of the day, they are in better shape, and they start to really know each other better."

Ask teachers, and they'll tell you the Friday hikes embody what the alternative school wants to be — an nontraditional environment, but one where students can be themselves and experience learning through a new lens.

Ask students, and they'll say the Friday hikes are a much-needed breather from the desks and whiteboard. They're also a place where students can bond across all grade levels, forging friendships on the trail.

"First, you get to know everybody better," YVHS senior Teneka Worton said. "You can get really irritated with everybody at first, but after you get over it and get your shower, you feel happy. You go back to school and we're all a lot closer than we were before we left.”

"I definitely look forward to it," Worton added. "I didn't use to. I hated the hikes. It was my least-favorite part. After three years of being here, I just started really enjoying going on hikes, and the intensives."

Three times a year, YVHS students go on three intensive field study trips. The first one took place at Steamboat Lake, where the students spent an overnight camping trip cleaning the area, touching up fire pits and helping on a nearby ranch.

In late March, YVHS held its annual urban intensive, which included a tour of college campuses in Fort Collins. They also attended a showing of "West Side Story" to wrap up their “Romeo and Juliet” unit, and toured exhibits at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.

The final intensive will be a rafting trip at Browns Canyon, an annual event in the days leading up to graduation June 6.

The final intensive serves as an end-of-the-year celebration, YVHS lead teacher Chuck Rosemond said. Getting out and doing things away from the classroom mean a lot to the school, the longtime YVHS teacher said, even if it means some dirty hands and sore legs.

"We love doing it, and the kids are awesome, I've got to say," Rosemond said. "It's always been their thing. The vibe is good and they enjoy doing it."

To reach Ben Ingersoll, call 970-871-4204, email bingersoll@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @BenMIngersoll