Escalante Middle School sixth-graders strapped on snowshoes Wednesday and hiked out from Haviland Lake to learn firsthand the workings of the Animas River watershed.
“We want to help the students understand the connections of what’s going on in our natural world,” said Grace Gordon, an educator with Durango Nature Studies.
In years past, Durango Nature Studies has teamed up with Durango School District 9-R to bring kids out of the classroom and into the outdoors to engage in environmental education programs.
However, last year Gordon said organizers decided to revamp the program with the help of Miller Middle School teachers.
“The teachers wanted something more rigorous and relevant to the student’s life,” she said. “The fact that this new program is hands-on and connected to their everyday life is a very valuable learning experience for them.”
The course, called “Watersheds in Winter,” begins in the classroom as teachers prepare students with preliminary information about how watersheds work and the particulars of topography.
That way, Gordon said, when students take part in the three-hour field trip that starts at the Rapp Corral near Haviland Lake, they’re better prepared to conduct fields studies, such as measuring snowpack and determining snow-water equivalent.
“It’s amazing to see that ‘a-ha’ moment when they start to understand how the watershed works, and especially how it affects our drinking water and fire season,” Gordon said.
So far this year, sixth-grade students from Miller and Escalante middle schools, about 300 students in total, have taken part in the program, with more classes scheduled in the upcoming weeks.
Ashley Hillmer, a sixth-grade science teacher at Escalante, said Wednesday that the field trip opens students’ eyes to the importance of water as a resource, especially in the West.
“They really don’t know much about it, and because of that, take that resource for granted,” Hillmer said. “But once they start to understand the implications of water as a resource, they really start to appreciate it more.”
Ethan Pepperdine, a sixth-grade student, was grouped with a team tasked with checking the amount of snowpack in a field not far from the Rapp Corral on Wednesday.
He said having recently moved to Durango from Las Vegas, this most recent field trip was an eye-opening experience.
“It’s important to know about the watershed, especially because the Colorado River watershed supplies water for so many states,” Pepperdine said.
And Maren Clay, too, said she appreciated the opportunity to learn in the field.
“We can learn about where our water comes from, how it works, the water cycle,” she said. “It’s just really cool to see.”
The students will then take the data and measurements gathered from their field trips and enter it into a database that teachers can use for further analysis in their curriculum.
“We’re doing real science,” said Gordon. “Students know the pieces of the whole story (of how a watershed works), but we’re putting all those pieces together.”
Durango Nature Studies takes every opportunity it can to take students into the field, said Gordon.
The organization has programs for sixth- and fourth-graders in the winter; second-, third- and seventh-graders in the fall; and kindergarten, first- and eighth-graders in the spring.