Vail Daily column: Students today, stewards tomorrow | VailDaily.com
Beth Markham
Valley Voices

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Vail Daily column: Students today, stewards tomorrow

As mountain peaks lose their snowy caps, creeks and rivers rush with whitewater and wildflowers fill meadows and woods with their vibrant color, we are once again embraced by summer as another school year closed its books.

Throughout the 2016-17 academic year, the youth programs staff at Walking Mountains Science Center spent a combined 44,000 hours with 4,200 students in Eagle County through our Field Science and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) pipeline programs. We worked with nearly all public and private schools in Eagle County to provide students with the opportunity to awaken a sense of wonder for science, sustainability and stewardship through hands-on learning experiences.

"I wish we could do a field program for a whole week instead of just two days," one sixth-grader from Eagle Valley Middle said to a friend on a Geomorphology Field Science Program. "Yeah, I just learn so much better outside," the friend responded.

Conversations like this are a testament to the importance and power of hands-on, experiential learning in the outdoors that our Field Science Programs provide.

Since the STEM Leadership Academy after-school program expanded from sixth through eighth grades, we explored options to grow our STEM pipeline programming into high school. After securing funding from Energy Smart Colorado and RA Nelson, Amanda Hewitt, STEM coordinator, embraced the challenge of taking on a Solar Roller team.

The Walking Mountains Solar Roller team worked diligently to design and build a working car, including the engineering and design process, circuitry, solar energy systems and collaboration. These types of experiences create indelible imprints on students' minds that they will carry with them for a lifetime, even inspiring future career choices.

After wrapping up the Girls in Science after-school program with three successful science fairs, Nicole Abrams, Girls in Science coordinator, organized a community-service project for Girls in Science participants. The project was done in collaboration with Bare Roots, the community food access coalition, which helped connect Girls in Science with volunteer opportunities at the Avon, Eagle and Eagle-Vail community gardens.

Abrams taught the young ladies who participate in Girls in Science that as the things they do during experiments have an impact on the results, our actions as people have an impact on the world around us. This year, our free Girls in Science program was offered at nine Eagle County elementary schools.

We are incredibly fortunate to have a strong partnership with many local organizations and businesses that help us move closer to achieving our goal of serving all kindergarten through eighth-grade students in Eagle County at least once a year throughout their academic career. Walking Mountains is committed to finding creative ways to serve as many students as possible every year, while infusing innovative curriculum into programming to build science literacy, cultivate a sense of place and inspire young stewards.

I am so grateful for the passionate, talented and energetic teaching staff that works so hard to provide meaningful learning experiences to the students of Eagle County. Until next school year, join us this summer as we explore the natural playground that surrounds us and experience the magic of the mountains that have so much to teach.

Beth Markham is the youth programs director at Walking Mountains Science Center.