Earth Task Force Curbs Consumerism with Clothes-cycling

November 25, 2014 by  
Filed under Earth Task Force

photo 2Thursday, November 13th, a student led environmental action team at New Vista High School called the Earth Task Force (ETF) implemented a Clothing Swap event during the school’s hour long lunch. ETF worked a couple weeks prior to the event to create a comedic promotional video to grab the attention of the students at New Vista. The Clothing Swap Team then brought some of their own used clothes to kick off the event. The Clothing Swap was very successful, multiple students brought in their used clothes of good quality and took home wonderful new finds.

ETF held the clothing swap to promote and practice the recycling of valuable resources and materials. In this generation, shopping is a concept that entails ONLY buying new clothes. Often our society gets stuck in a cycle of consumerism, constantly buying new things and throwing the old in the trash. ETF wanted to break this cycle and promote the underrated sport of thrifting by doing it at school!

There was a calm before the storm, then the school swarmed the gym embracing the concept of new, and free clothes! A good number of students showed up to the event. ETF was ecstatic about the great photo 1community involvement. Some brought clothes, and some didn’t, but either way clothes were swapped. By the end of lunch period, there were two trash bags of clothes left. These were donated to Goodwill, a thrift store that provides used clothes and other objects at cheap prices.

ETF is very grateful to those students that brought in clothes and those who showed up and supported the event. A special shoutout to the video teacher, Pfouts, for lending ETF filming equipment, and to his students that helped to edit the promotional video. We hope that the students and staff will continue to support future recycling of clothes.

Written by Flora Rotner and Rayna Miller

The Earth Task Force (ETF) is a Cottonwood Institute-supported program at New Vista High School in Boulder, CO designed to give students an opportunity to take the lead to implement sustainability initiatives at their school.

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Top 10 Inspiring Stories from 2014

November 17, 2014 by  
Filed under Cottonwood Institute News

Top10InspiringStories2014What were our students up to this year with Cottonwood Institute? Check out our Top 10 Inspiring Stories from 2014!

We are wrapping up another awesome year here at Cottonwood Institute. As we reflect on 2014, we’re awed at the incredible adventures, growth, and action projects our students have accomplished. None of this would have been possible without the generous support of our educational partners, students, parents, staff, instructors, board members, donors, corporate sponsors, and foundations.

Please consider making a tax-deductible donation before December 31, 2014 and The Salah Foundation will match up to $12,000 to support our programs! To make a tax-deductible online donation today, Click Here. For more donation options, Click Here.

Thank you for helping us change the world, one adventure at a time!

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2014 Beer Release Party At Wynkoop Brewing Company

November 10, 2014 by  
Filed under Cottonwood Institute News, Upcoming Events

Beer Release PartyUPDATE: Online registration is now closed, but we are still taking walk up registrations at the door tonight. Come join us!

The leaves are falling and the snow is coming, which means it is time for Cottonwood Institute’s annual Beer Release Party Wednesday, November 12th, 2014 from 5:30pm – 7:00pm at Wynkoop Brewing Company.

RSVP Today to be entered into a drawing for free giveaways, including: VIP Uber Ride up to $50 each way for 2 people, 5280 Magazine Date Night Package, OtterBox phone cases, and a growler cooler from Mountainsmith with growlers of your favorite Wynkoop Brewing Company beer! Must be present to win!

This year, Wynkoop’s award-winning Beer Maestro, Andy Brown, has crafted a perfect Cottonwood Organic Pumpkin Porter. From November 12th, 2014 – December 12th, 2014, Wynkoop will donate $1 per pint to support CI programs to connect underserved students to the outdoors and empower them to tackle local environmental issues.

Come over to Wynkoop after work, taste Wynkoop’s latest fundraising beer, help us celebrate our accomplishments this year, network with other CI supporters, and “raise a glass to the environment.” RSVP Today!

Can’t attend, but still want to make a donation? Click Here.


Climax Molybdenum

Kelly & Walker



Technical Integrity



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Ready, Set, GO! Earth Task Force’s Recycle Relay Races to Responsible Disposal

October 27, 2014 by  
Filed under Earth Task Force

20141022_133634When it comes to knowing what items go in the recycling or other bins, it can be hard. The rules always seem to be changing and there are always exceptions. Mixing waste in the wrong disposal bins can contaminate batches of recycling or compost. This fall, the Earth Task Force tried to find a creative way to teach students where to put their waste items. The Earth Task Force (ETF) is a Cottonwood Institute-supported program at New Vista High School (NVHS) in Boulder, CO. ETF is designed to give students an opportunity to take the lead to implement sustainability initiatives at their school and in their community.

In order to help students learn the correct place to dispose of their waste, the ETF created the Recycle Relay, with a little help from Eco-cycle. For its fifth year running, students at NVHS lined up to test their recycling skills. The Recycle Relay is a relay style race where student teams compete to dispose of 35 different waste containers as accurately as possible. Items range from things as simple as an aluminium can to items such as a plastic take-out food container and juice boxes. The students learn beforehand which items go in which bin and what to keep in mind when throwing them out.

This year competitors were as eager as ever for the race to begin. 20141022_133734When “GO” was called, students sprinted across the gym to deposit their items in either the trash, the compost, or the recycling. Teams were working together to decide where each item went. After the race ETF members joined each team to discuss the placement of waste items. Items in the wrong bin were explained so the students could learn from their mistakes. The event was exciting for everyone and ended positively with each student gaining a further understanding of which bins are appropriate for each item.

If you are interested in learning more about recycling or composting go to

Article written by ETF student Allison Bell.

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CAP Students Shed Light on the GMO Debate

IMG_20141002_144119861_HDRIn fall of 2014, Community Adventure Program (CAP) students at New Vista High School in Boulder, Colorado, chose to study the controversial topic of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). After watching documentaries, visiting Alfalfa’s Market, and conducting extensive research, they invited speakers from both sides of the issue to their class. Speakers from Right to Know Colorado and No on 105 gave engaging, well-articulated, and informative presentations, and were open to the students many questions, comments, and concerns. In response to everything they learned and experienced, the CAP students launched a campaign to educate their community about GMOs and Proposition 105. Students created a four minute informational video that they presented to students, faculty, staff, and parents at New Vista High School. Permit in hand, CAP students set up a booth on Pearl Street in Boulder to learn from and teach the wider community. Students asked passersby what they knew about GMOs and how they felt about them. Individuals then had the opportunity to contribute to a community-centric piece of art by writing their viewpoints of GMOs and Prop 105 on a colorful notecard that they could pin onto the “GMO Web.” In the end, CAP created an interesting piece of art depicting community viewpoints on the controversial topic; the artwork now hangs on the walls at New Vista High School. Below, read a message from the CAP students regarding GMOs:

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) have been in our food since the 1990s (Shireen 2013). They are approved by the FDA, are in a large majority of processed foods (FDA 2014), and are a billion dollar industry for such companies as Syngenta and Monsanto (Bart 2014). Still, many Americans fail to grasp a basic understanding of what they are. That is why Community Adventure Program (CAP) at New Vista High School in Boulder set out to lead an educational initiative to teach others about GMOs.

GMOs are plants that have the genetic material of other plants or animals inserted into their DNA. This gives them abilities that they would not naturally have. These abilities are generally one of two types. The first ability is for the plant to become herbicide resistant, so that when sprayed with weed killer the plant itself does not die. The second ability is to become a legal insecticide. If an insect lands on an insecticide GMO it will die immediately- protecting the crops (GMO OMG 2013). However, this calls into question: are GMOs dangerous? If insects are dying by landing on these plants, then what is protecting us? If our corn is sprayed with tons of herbicide, are we safe? The truth is, no one knows. Currently, eight crops are genetically modified: Alfalfa (first planting 2011), Canola (approx. 90% of U.S. crop), Corn (approx. 88% of U.S. crop), Cotton (approx. 90% of U.S. crop in 2011), Papaya (most of Hawaiian crop), Soy (approx. 94% of U.S.), Sugar Beets (approx. 95% of U.S. crop) and Zucchini and Yellow Summer Squash (approx. 25,000 acres) (Non GMO Project). No one is tracking these crops through the manufacturing process, therefore no one can tell which products at a store are genetically modified (Phillips 2008). That is why a labeling movement has sprung up all across the U.S. including in Colorado.

IMG_20141002_135648759_HDRAn upcoming ballot initiative in Colorado, Proposition 105, would require companies to label most processed food that has been genetically modified. If passed, beginning July 1, 2016 food that has been genetically modified or produced with genetic engineering would have to be labeled “Produced with Genetic Engineering.” Food that is exempt from the label include: food or drink for animals, chewing gum, alcoholic beverages, and food served in restaurants (Proposition 105).

Labeling GMOs would make them trackable and therefore easier to study. With the ability to perform longitudinal studies on GMOs, we would be able to more fully understand the human health effects and environmental effects of GMOs. GMOs are linked to serious allergies in humans, environmental effects such as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) and declines in monarch butterfly populations. Labeling GMOs would also give people the right to choose how they want to eat based on their personal opinion. Prop 105 only requires the labeling of most processed foods, it does not bans GMOs. Furthermore, since Prop 105 is a statutory amendment, not a constitutional amendment, there can be flexibility and fine tuning through public hearings. More information about our food source can’t be a bad thing or else 60 countries in the European Union would not have mandatory labeling of genetically modified food (Right To Know Colorado).

Opponents of Proposition 105 argue that the fiscal responsibilities of introducing and maintaining GMO labeling may be enough to vote “no” on the proposition. Labeling GMOs may result in higher prices for food at the local grocer, as farmers, manufacturers, and distributors would be required to comply with the changing regulations (No on 105). The proposition could put Colorado food producers who ship to other states at a disadvantage because of label. Consumers who choose not to consume GMOs can look for the existing label, “Non-GMO Project Verified.” Proposition 105 would take $130,000 dollars from the state general fund annually in order to perform inspections. The federal government feels that current labeling standards are reliable and informative enough to continue without change (Colorado State Ballot and Blue Book 2014).

Is the proposition a step in the right direction or a step backwards for Colorado? That is for you to decide and we hope you will vote in the upcoming November 2014 election.

Sincerely, The New Vista High School Community Adventure Program Class, 1st Quarter 2014

In reflecting on their Action Project, here’s what a couple of students have to say:

There was a day in class that we talked about the cycle of cynicism and the cycle of hope. This stuck with me because I came to the realization that for the past year I had been in the cycle of cynicism. I had learned about so many issues and wanted to help but felt that it was useless. I didn’t think there was anything I could possibly do, so I gave up and stopped thinking about it, stopped caring. CAP helped me return to the cycle of hope. I discovered it doesn’t matter who you are, anyone can make big change if they have the drive and work hard enough. As the class drew to a close I was glad I had the opportunity to participate. I enjoyed Community Adventure Program very much; I met new interesting people in the class, and it helped return to the cycle of hope as I rekindled a love for nature and a desire to protect the planet. – Aerielle

I learned many strategies for ways we could go above and beyond what I thought was possible. I think our class really tried to go outside the box for this action project, and we succeeded in many ways. I learned a lot about not just GMO’s, but also how just a few people can make a big difference. – Caleb

Many thanks to New Vista High School, our partners, instructors, and supports for continuing to make CAP a powerful and impactful program for our students!

View and download pictures of CAP at New Vista High School at the Shutterfly Picture Share Site.

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The Earth Task Force Collaborates with Local Vendors and The Kitchen Next Door to Serve a Local Lunch

October 1, 2014 by  
Filed under Cottonwood Institute News

20140926_120533This past Friday, on September 26th, a student led environmental action team at New Vista High School called the Earth Task Force coordinated a Local Lunch event. With the invaluable help of The Kitchen Next Door and donations of ingredients by vendors from the local community, the Earth Task Force served a delicious lunch to students and staff. The meal was served free of charge to individuals who brought their own reusable tableware, turning the Local Lunch into a waste free event.

The purpose of the lunch was to educate the community about the impact of local versus non-local food on the planet: eating locally reduces carbon emissions, fuels the local economy, and gives eaters a chance to connect with growers. Students and staff at New Vista supported local farmers and reduced their carbon footprint with the simple act of enjoying a meal of pork sliders and vibrant salads.20140926_122418

Donations for the lunch were received from local farms and businesses such as Haystack Mountain Goat Dairy, Farmer John, Locavore, Whole Foods Market at Baseline and Kim and Jake’s Cakes. Despite the difficulty of donating free produce, these vendors enthusiastically provided the ingredients needed to catalyze the Local Lunch. The event was made possible not only by these generous donations, but by the help of the Kitchen Next Door as well. An establishment in downtown Boulder, the Kitchen Next Door cultivates a culture of community and a passion for local food. On the Wednesday and Thursday preceding the event, the restaurant opened its kitchen to small groups of action members from the Earth Task Force, and with culinary expertise guided the students in preparing the food.

After weeks of preparation, the Local Lunch was hosted on the last day of the week from 12:05pm to 1:05pm. The atmosphere of the event was happy and relaxed, the students sitting on picnic blankets and enjoying their food in the sunny weather. Students successfully brought reusable plates, and even those who didn’t persisted in acquiring a lunch by renting a plate provided by the Earth Task Force or eating off creative “plates” such as clipboards. Overall, the event was a huge success. Chefs, local farmers, and students came together in an effort that effectively fed a 20140926_132316mass of voracious high schoolers.

Written by Cassidy Lam

About Earth Task Force:
The Earth Task Force (ETF) is a Cottonwood Institute-supported program at New Vista High School in Boulder, CO designed to give students an opportunity to take the lead to implement sustainability initiatives at their school.

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Students at STRIVE Excel Backpack, Lead, and Learn with CAP

September 30, 2014 by  
Filed under Community Adventure Program, Program News, STRIVE Prep

STRIVEgroupIn late October, students from STRIVE Preparatory Schools’ Excel campus went backpacking as part of their Community Adventure Program (CAP) class with Cottonwood Institute. CAP at STRIVE is a semester-long class, which meets two days each week for 15 weeks. The first few weeks of class in August and September focused on teambuilding, nature awareness, and preparations for their backpacking trip. In October, students will start building a greater understanding of the environmental issues that affect Denver and the Front Range. During the last half of their semester in November and December, the students will select a local environmental issue to address as a class through an Action Project. As the class becomes more and more student-directed, leadership, problem solving, and critical thinking will become essential skills as they enact change in their community.

Below are a few excerpts from the students written reflections of their backpacking trip:

“We went to White Ranch Park, and it was really challenging to go camping and be away from home. During the trip, we could talk to our friends and other people in the class that don’t usually talk. People had lots of fun and they talked to different people. All my classmates really enjoyed this camping trip because we all got along and got to know each other better. We learned that when you are camping with other people it’s important to build trust with those other people.”

“The hardest part of the trip was the 1- mile hike into the campsite. The most important thing is to listen to your administrator [leader] so your backpack will not feel heavy. This is important because if you don’t your back will hurt a lot.”

“When we do our sit spots, it helps us think about how this environment is different from the one we live in. We learned that we can be far away from our phones and be more in nature.”

“We played camouflage during the day. This game helped us bond because we tried to keep those hiding a secret. At night, we all stayed up around the fire eating s’mores and coming up with riddles.”

“It helps me think clear and it opened my mind.” – Orlando

“I thought it was fun, its a really amazing experience. It makes you realize that there are greater things beyond your backyard.” – Aron

STRIVEcamoStay tuned for updates from their next backpacking trip and Action Project progress over the next few weeks!

Many thanks to our partners, instructors, donors, and foundation supporters including PeyBack Foundation, CoBiz Cares Foundation, and Salah Foundation for making CAP at STRIVE possible!

View and download pictures of STRIVE Preparatory Schools many adventures with Cottonwood Institute at the Shutterfly Picture Share Site.

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CAP Class Goes Backpacking: A Weekend of Connections, Reflections, and Campfire Banana Boats

cap40groupcap40firecap40sunsetcap40hikeIn September of 2014, Community Adventure Program (CAP) students at New Vista High School embarked on their first overnight backpacking trip of the quarter! Led by Cottonwood Institute (CI) instructors Katie and Sandy, the group of 10 students hiked up the trails at White Ranch Park in Golden, Colorado. Once arriving at their campsite for the night, the students immediately sauntered off to the hills and forests to find a sit spot. With sights of Denver to the east, the wild mountains to the west, and the intricacies of nature all around them, students came back from their sit spots feeling an energized and refreshed sense of place.

After working together to set up camp, the group went for an afternoon hike to explore more of the trails. Along the way, instructors and students wondered at the local plants and geology of the area. White Ranch Park is an ideal location to begin understanding how the Front Range holds such a diversity of plants and animals. Eli, a student leader and former CAP student, found a perfectly forested area to lead a fun game of Camouflage.

Back at camp in the late afternoon, Sandy taught the students several ways of making fire, beginning with bow drills and ending with flint and steel. Jake and Noah came so close to “busting a coal” by working together: Jake using the bow and Noah holding pressure down on the spindle. Sydney did a little victory dance when she used flint and steel to light a cottonball on fire. As students slowly added kindling to the tiny cottonball fire, the fire grew and soon the coals became hot enough to start dinner. Dessert was among the highlights of the trip; everyone had a least one s’more and about half of the group indulged in campfire banana boats! The group enjoyed an epic sunset over the mountains, while playing guitar, beating drums and pots, and singing songs around the campfire.

Students rose early the next morning by the warmth of the sun, and started a fire for breakfast and pine needle tea. After packing up camp, the group played a few games, explored off-trail, and took a final sit spot. During the sit spot, students tried to hear the quietest possible noise around them in the forest. Birds beating their wings, aspen leaves blowing in the breeze, squirrels darting from branch to branch, and insects crawling nearby.

In the final group reflection before hiking back to the trailhead, students created a small nature sculpture to represent what they want to take back with them to school. Many students voiced the value of patience, unplugging from technology, teamwork, leadership, and taking ownership of their learning and experiences. They are excited to implement some of their lessons learned to their action project in CAP. Stay tuned for updates from this fall’s CAP class at New Vista as students take action in their school and community to address genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Check out more pictures from our instructor training weekend here:

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Instructors Get Outside to Learn and Play Together

August 27, 2014 by  
Filed under Cottonwood Institute News, Program News

DSCF1165DSCF1159DSCF1161“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.” – John Muir

New and returning instructors met up on a sunny Saturday morning in August to head to the hills together, spending the day learning and freshening up on Cottonwood Institute’s core curriculum at CI’s Fall Instructor Training. After quick introductions in Boulder, the crew of 8 educators packed into a couple of cars and caravanned up Left Hand Canyon to Cal-Wood Education Center. As they drove through Jamestown, the instructors were struck by how the town remained devastated by the floods from almost a year ago. Over the past year, Cottonwood Institute has spent more time on programs focusing on the ecological and social impacts of natural disasters. Seeing the affects on the town and landscape of Jamestown inspired valuable discussions among the instructors for how to continue incorporating lessons on preparation, response, and recovery in the wake of wildfires and floods.

Once at Cal-Wood, the day was jam-packed with games, activities, lessons, and discussions to prepare the instructors for fall programs and beyond. Here are a few of the highlights: CI Instructor Rachael Jaffe led an attunement called “Connections” to help everyone get to know each other; Program Coordinator Katie Craig guided the group through a 360 degree awareness activity; Program Director Madeline Bachner led exhilarating games of “Ninja!” and “PDQ”; CI Instructor Jessi Burg guided the group in a relaxing sit spot and a fun game of Camouflage; CI Instructor Sandy Chervenak taught the group new ways to help students “bust a coal” with bowdrills; and everyone contributed towards providing ideas for new ways to reflect and debrief with groups.

A big high five and thank you to all of the instructors who contributed to such a fun, inspiring, empowering, and educational one-day training. Cottonwood Institute is fortunate to have such an amazing group of instructors!

Check out more pictures from our instructor training weekend here:

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College of Menominee Nation Examines Floods and Fires in Colorado

20140814_110116Cottonwood Institute was excited to collaborate with the College of Menominee Nation Sustainable Development Institute (SDI) in a unique Fire and Flood Project exploring the foothills and gaining a deeper understanding of fire, water, and flood issues in Colorado. After an early morning pick-up at DIA, a group of 17 from Wisconsin, began their trip at The Alliance Center in Denver, CO, the hub for sustainability in Colorado. The Sustainability Leadership Cohort (SLC), as the group is known, heard from local sustainability experts to learn more about fire and water issues facing Colorado. With full bellies after a lunch from Smiling Moose Deli, the crew packed up and headed to Cal-wood Education Center just outside of Jamestown, CO, for the next 5 days and 4 nights.

20140817_063209The participants spent their first morning indulging in the finest of instant coffee and no-name oats and granola. They welcomed the morning with a “sit spot”, at Solitude Point, taking in the beautifully rugged landscape of the Colorado Rockies. In the afternoon the group left on an educational driving tour through Gold Hill and Fourmile Canyon. The group learned basic fire ecology while walking through a burn area near Goldhill and as an afernoon thunderstorm drenched the landscape, they watched in awe as fresh water cascaded down the canyon with them as they drove. It was a unique opportunity to witness the power of mother nature, and see the relationship between the fires and floods of Colorado.
20140815_155335The SLC spent the next day re-opening the Mika Mine Trail at Cal-Wood Education Center. It was a hard days work hammering away, building new stairs for the trail. With sore backs and newly blistered hands, the crew finished out the day cooling off in a near-by creek! The following day they traveled down to Lyons to do volunteer work for the community which has been visibly devastated by the flood. A group broke down and rescued re-usable materials from a collapsed greenhouse, while the rest were picking up debris and clearing out sediment that was deposited during the flood.

The following morning they shared their final meal at the campsite, sat and appreciated the quiet wisdom of the mountains, and then returned to Boulder for clean-up. For their closing initiative they met with Jeff Morisette from Rising Voices, a program through the North Central Climate Science Center. 20140815_203638_LLSHe led an inspiring conversation about the collaborative efforts being made to integrate indigenous knowledge and “western” science to combat climate change.

The days were packed full of laughter, learning, and wilderness. As a group they learned how to work hard and build together. They learned about the elements and chaotic weather patterns of the Rockies. They learned how to not shower and still survive; to conserve water, to remember to breathe at 8,000 feet, and build community around a fire.

“This will definitely be on the top of my ‘greatest experiences in my life’ list!”.  – Cherie

“I am so humbled and in awe of this experience and these amazing young people I got a chance to get to know. It makes me feel good for the future of the world to know that there are people like this becoming adults soon. Colorado is amazing and our trip was epic.” – Justin, adult participant

20140816_092146It was a beautiful exchange between Cottonwood and SDI, and we hope that the relationships built will continue in the future. Many thanks to all who made this trip a success: Alliance for Sustainable Colorado, Your Water Colorado, Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control, Colorado State Forest Service, Project Learning TreeSmiling Moose DeliCal-wood Education Center, Town of Lyons Volunteers, DOI North Central Climate Science Center, our Cottonwood Institute Instructors, and the remarkable natural world that continually teaches us everything we really need to know.


To see more pictures from this trip visit our Share Site:

Article Written By: Marissa Sieck, Cottonwood Institute Instructor

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