The Four Corners School of Outdoor Education has one mighty big campus – the entire 130,000-square-mile Colorado Plateau.
Seat time in a classroom isn’t what the school is about. Instead, students ages 6 to 90 learn from outdoor adventure, public service and research.
The pear-shaped Colorado Plateau spreads over the Four Corners, mostly in Utah and Arizona. The western fringe of Colorado and New Mexico are within the boundaries, including from north to south Grand Junction, Durango, Farmington and Gallup. Albuquerque is outside the fold. The extreme western edge of the plateau reaches the Nevada state line.
Founded in Monticello, Utah, in 1984, the school (www.fourcornersschool.org) has kicked off a four-year funding campaign to raise $8.5 million to build a new campus – Canyon Country Discovery Center – also in Monticello.
Monticello, perhaps appropriately, is in the central region of the Colorado Plateau.
“We share the natural wonders of the region with children and adults through education, adventure and conservation programs,” said founder and chief executive Janet Ross.
Ross, who has an undergraduate degree in outdoor education and a master’s degree in experiential education, worked for seven years as a backcountry ranger for the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management.
She also spent 15 years as a wilderness guide for such outdoor programs as Outward Bound and Wilderness Challenge and for Prescott College in Arizona.
Four primary programs embody the school’s philosophy:
The Bioregional Outdoor Education Project is a two-year program for teachers of sciences and culture in public K-8 and Bureau of Indian Affairs schools. Teachers learn the place-based approach to environmental education.
Teachers get intense training the first summer in Monticello. Then mentors from the Four Corners School visit the participating teacher’s school for a day twice a month to shadow them and work with them in class. The wrap-up summer is spent on the San Juan River.
In each two-year cycle, 240 teachers and 6,000 students in 20 schools participate.
Julie Stone, a Southern Ute Department of Education teacher at Ignacio Junior High School, is wrapping up her two-year stint this summer.
“Of all the continuing education I’ve taken, I got the most out this individual program,” she said. “I’ve learned that I can really make an impact.”
Stone has worked with middle school children in the field and during a San Juan River float, which included one night camped under the stars.
“I have notebooks full of resource material,” Stone said. “I’ll definitely be able to apply this knowledge in the future.”
The Canyon Country Youth Corps educates and employs largely Navajo youth in four-week to six-month stints in spring, summer and fall on public-land resource-management projects.
About 50 young people each year learn natural resource protection, use of tools and career possibilities in the field. They are paid, and some complete their General Educational Development certificate.
Southwest Ed-Ventures offers hiking, river rafting and cross-country ski trips led by people knowledgeable in the fields of archaeology, biology, geology and Native American cultures.
Participants often are first-time visitors from other parts of the country or world who have no prior knowledge of the Colorado Plateau, its history or cultures. Field trips many times are sponsored by universities, museums or private schools.
The proposed Canyon Country Discovery Center will allow the school to add programs in astronomy, hold workshops, host evening lectures, showcase its LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and improve the experience of about 2 million people who visit or drive through the plateau annually.
It’s anticipated the center will host educational and research programs for 35,000 students, teachers and others on-site annually and also 97,000 from the same cohorts through outreach education.