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Berry Creek kids learned from pros

Brooke Bates
Special to the DailySixth-grader Haille Hogfeldt gazes out from a Black Hawk helicopter at the High-Altitude Army Aviation Training Site at the county airport.
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EDWARDS – There are some things you probably won’t learn in middle school, like how to rewire an old Japanese Pakinko machine, how to design an airplane or how to teach a rat to go through a maze.But “probably” didn’t stop these Berry Creek students.In the Enriched Accelerated Gifted Learning Experiences class, students had an entire semester to design independent projects. Under the guidance of teacher Michael Moser, students worked individually or in groups to come up with a burning question, like “Can you teach a rat to detonate a bomb?” Then they proposed projects to find the answers.”The teachers tell you what you need and how to get it, but you’re on your own,” sixth grader Haille Hogfeldt said. “It’s harder and more challenging, but it teaches you responsibility and freedom. You can learn what you want to learn.”They weren’t entirely alone. Anne Dunlevie, president of the Gifted Education Team of Eagle County, connected 10 of the 33 students with mentors in the community who offered expertise relevant to each project. For example, Dunlevie directed Hogfeldt and her partner, Bailey Garton, to Maj. Joshua Day at the High-Altitude Army Aviation Training Site at the county airport for extra guidance.

“Kids have their own ideas on how they want to go about their projects, but not always the life experiences to go along with their ideas,” Dunlevie said. “Rather than handing them info, we get the kids to draw their own connections so they can see there are real life applications to their ideas.”Students met with their mentors briefly – in most cases only a few hours – but the impact was lasting, Dunlevie said.”Kids come back to the classroom on fire,” she said. “We notice an explosion in their productivity and knowledge base.”

Joe Ryan, a pilot at Rocky Mountain Biplane Adventures, took two boys under his wing as they worked to design an airplane. He said it’s important for kids to get an early start in their learning, and anytime kids get out of the classroom, the experience is magnified.”It’s the smell of the fuel. It’s the jets coming in,” Ryan said. “These things stay in kids’ minds and encourage them to go on and do great things, whether they want to be an astronaut or a golfer.”Even though she already knew a bit about hovercrafts, Hogfeldt said meeting with Day deepened her understanding of flight. “It helps if you hear it from someone and you’re not just reading it,” she said.Catherine Zakoian, a child and family therapist in Edwards, worked with a student to examine rituals of modern American women.”She wished for her classmates to experience and interact rather than lecturing them about what she learned,” Zakoian said. Even though Zakoian only met with the student for a few hours, the girl went on to survey women countrywide and create an interactive board game to share with her classmates. Zakoian, echoing the response of most mentors, said she wouldn’t hesitate to help again.”Mentoring is a call,” Zakoian said. “Young adults are seeking knowledge that we adults want to share, but the sharing of wisdom goes in both directions.”

Dunlevie taught basic Japanese to a group of Spanish speaking boys and noticed their friends copying their notes and trying to teach themselves the new language. Next year, Dunlevie will open the Japanese class to all Berry Creek students. Instead of only taking certain kids out to the field, she also wants to bring experts into the classroom.After three years in the Berry Creek program, Jenna Beairsto said she wishes the program would follow her into high school next year.”It sets you up for life,” she said. “You have to plan what to do, and it’s up to you to get it done. No one else will do it for you. You get to learn about something you’re passionate about. I wish we had more options to learn this way.”Until now, Dunlevie has been approaching community members for help, but she would like to see more volunteers step forward. The Vail Symposium Mentor Bank was established this spring as an outgrowth of Berry Creek’s program. Susan Mackin Dolan, vice president of the Gifted Education Team, is heading up the mentor bank. She said she would like to build a base of volunteers throughout the summer to mentor students in the fall.”People don’t realize that our public schools are nonprofit organizations that need volunteer help,” Dolan said. “We want to encourage people with experience in so many areas to give back to the kids.”With the diversity of projects kids tackle, Moser said they need a spectrum of community experts to draw from. Having a bank of available mentors would ease the process of pairing up students, he said.”So many people are willing to help but don’t know how,” Moser said. “The kids have ideas, but they need the engine to be able to go.”Brooke Bates can be reached at vdeditintern@vaildaily.comVail, Colorado


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