The natural world provides an important laboratory for all learners.
Just when it started to feel like a normal summer, I turned the page on the calendar to see the start of the school year staring back at me. Days at Durango Nature Studies are never dull, but August is easily our busiest month as we wrap up summer camps and prepare for our environmental education programs and our after-school enrichment programs.
Over the next few weeks, our staff educators will update and finish plans for our environmental education programs for elementary and middle school students. We partner with area schools to provide students with hands-on learning opportunities focused on life sciences.
Over the academic year, we’ll host about 3,000 students throughout the Four Corners at the Durango Nature Center. We’ll host another 1,000 students in snowy climes north of Durango from January to March. DNS has been providing these programs for almost 25 years and demand has increased over the years as school administrators further understand the benefits of experiential learning.
Our education programs consist of a one-hour classroom lecture, followed by half-day field trips to the Nature Center to provide students with a chance for hands-on learning. The Nature Center, a 140-acre nature preserve near Bondad, provides students the chance to learn about riparian areas and high-desert ecosystems. Classes are divided into small groups of 12 to 15 students so that social learners have the chance to learn from each other. Integration of hands-on learning activities and experiments with classroom instruction help students retain lessons and better comprehend scientific concepts. Many of us simply learn better by doing.
In addition, researchers such as Louise Chawla, professor emeritus at the University of Colorado, have demonstrated that repeated exposure to a place solidifies a person’s care and concern for the environment. Annual visits provide them with the chance to deepen their knowledge of science and environmental systems as curricula for each grade aligns with Colorado standards.
I’ve heard numerous vignettes in my first year at DNS about this connection, with alumni of our programs now in bachelor or graduate programs focused on biological sciences or conservation. It certainly is true for me as I credit my childhood here as seeding my care and passion for our world.
Our education programs have been connecting students in the Four Corners to their environment for many years, and we are eager to embark on another school year. As a small organization, our ability to provide hands-on programs depends on the passion and interest of not only our staff educators but also volunteer naturalists, as we keep the cost of our programs low.
We are fortunate to live in a community that treasures the natural world, and area youths benefit directly from this widespread passion. DNS is recruiting more naturalists for the fall semester to work with students and give them a healthy insight into the workings of the natural world. If you desire to share your knowledge with the next generation, let me know.
Stephanie Weber is executive director of Durango Nature Studies. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.