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Vail Daily column: The teaching students

Molly Schreiner
Valley Voices
Educator fellow Tyler Lincoln leads his group on a walk on the nature loop trail at Walking Mountains Science Center in Avon.
Walking Mountains | Special to the Daily |

“I love respecting nature at Walking Mountains!” one fifth-grader from Avon Elementary School enthusiastically remarked to his classmate as they headed out for their first Walking Mountains Science Center field lesson of the day. Our educators often hear comments like this and many school field days begin with stories from past field trips, “Last year, we got to use the stream table and we hiked all the way to the top of a mountain!” “When we came in second grade, at the end of the day, we got to throw a snowball at our teacher!” The stories flood in and the Walking Mountains educators learn about the bigger picture of how Walking Mountains’ programs impact their students.

Walking Mountains provides quality science education in an outdoor setting, which allows for place-based learning and hands-on experiences. The idea is to connect young children with nature so that as they mature, they become environmental stewards. Through a partnership with Eagle County Schools, we served over 3,500 students last year, and our goal is to grow that number every year, until we serve every student in Eagle County. As a former graduate fellow, I feel so lucky to see some of same students year after year and to have witnessed their growth as young scientists and to then pass the torch to the next group of fellows.

During one of her first school programs, Sara, one of the current fellows, had the pleasure of teaching kids who had years of experience in Walking Mountains programs. While hiking on a trail at our Science Center in Avon, she began to talk about some of the adaptations of aspen trees. A native of California, Sara had recently learned more about this incredible tree and was excited to share some fun nature facts with her students.

As she started to gather her group up, she noticed that most of the kids had already rubbed the natural sunscreen from the Aspen tree trunks all over their faces and she heard one of her students explain to another student, “Did you know that aspen trees are all connected underground?” Sara was happily surprised at the knowledge her group already had. After reviewing aspen adaptations, Sara launched into a lesson about migration, confidently building upon the solid place-based educational experience her students were already familiar with.

Through a partnership with Eagle County Schools, we served over 3,500 students last year. Our goal is to grow that number every year until we serve every student in Eagle County.

For a graduate fellow, Walking Mountains presents a unique academic and professional experience within the field of environmental education. Each summer we welcome four new fellows into the Walking Mountains community for an intense 15 months of learning and developing as a teacher. During their time as an educator at Walking Mountains, fellows develop and teach summer science camps, instruct school field programs and complete graduate-level courses. Fellows come from all around the country and have a variety of professional and life experiences, including teaching, field work and volunteering, both abroad and stateside. This year the teaching fellows are from California, Louisiana, Missouri and Colorado and have experience in nature interpretation, residential outdoor schools, the U.S. Peace Corps and other educational programs.

Although the fellows have a temporary tenure teaching at Walking Mountains, the tradition of the organization assures that their efforts and enthusiasm will always be carried forward by the students they teach. This confluence of students who embrace the tradition of Walking Mountains programs and new educators who are just learning it provides a great opportunity to create our next generation of environmental stewards. This program is possible through the generous financial support from the Borgen Family Foundation, New Belgium, Sidney E. Frank Foundation, Vail Resorts Epic Promise and Xcel Energy Foundation.

Molly Schreiner is the school programs coordinator for Walking Mountains Science Center and can be reached at mollys@walkingmountains.org.


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