On February 22nd, a group of four Earth Task Force members attended the Alliance for Sustainability Conference at the Colorado State Capitol Building. At the conference the Earth Task Force learned about current bills that focus on sustainability, climate change and the environment. Adam Stenftenagel, the co-founder and CEO of Snugg Home presented at the conference. He informed the audience about simple, cost-effective ways to improve the energy efficiency of residential homes.
After the initial briefing, students were introduced to Andy Kerr, a Colorado state senator working on green school bills. Kerr informed the ETF about a bill he recently wrote and sponsored. House bill 09-1312 allows school districts to apply for a small loan from the Colorado state treasury at a low interest rate. This bill will allow the ETF to apply for a grant that wouldn’t have been possible due to lack of funds from the school district. Speaking to Kerr in person was an unexpected, yet wonderful experience for the ETF it meant that a state senator was willing to take time out of his day to speak directly with high school students.
Andy Kerr invited Earth Task Force students to sit in on the House floor as bills were being discussed by the legislators. The students also spent their day speaking with house and state representatives. They discussed an upcoming plastic bag ban in Denver, and invited the politicians to a rally for the ban on April 13th, 2013. The unique experience provided the young activists with valuable information and tools with which to complete current and future projects. The experience also taught students that approaching, and working with local government officials is possible and a useful resource for the future.
Written by student journalists Robert Harding and Tavius Koktavy.
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.
We’ve had an exciting quarter in CAP so far, filled with hikes, camping, and guest speakers. During the first two weeks of the quarter, we spent many classes navigating miles of trails that traverse the hills just minutes from New Vista High School at Boulder Mountain Park. While learning ecology, minimum impact hiking, and sensory awareness skills, we began to understand our role in the natural world. What’s your connection to the environment?
Here are some reflections from a few students our class:
There’s something really spiritual about the wilderness for me. In my life I have to be involved and a part of so many things. The wilderness gives me a chance to spectate and appreciate the beauty in life where so often I focus on the negative…Even the smog about Denver looks magnificent when it’s hit by the beams of a setting sun. – Harper
The experience: Breathtaking, Astonishing, Fresh. I love the experience and the quality time I’m spending with my peers. – Carter
I enjoy hiking because it gives me peace of mind. The reason why it gives me peace of mind is because it lets me get away, that these problems I had before I was hiking don’t matter right now. The only thing that matters right now is where I’m going. It’s like entering a new world where it’s not rush, rush, rush. It’s just take your time and go at your own pace. – Thomas
All of our class experiences in the natural world certainly give us a reason to want to protect the environment. As we dive into understanding some of the issues that threaten the Boulder ecosystem, we invited two guest speakers to our class. Katie, from Eco-Cycle, taught us how we can move towards zero-waste on the individual, school, and community levels. Betty, from Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks, taught us about a few of the urban wildlife conflicts that affect us in Boulder. It was a fun and interactive program; we held furs and footprint molds, looked at different types of scat, and listened to animal calls. We were so inspired by the presentation, we decided to research the topic more and form an Action Project on Boulder’s urban wildlife conflicts. We’re just beginning our research this week, but we’ll keep you updated as we learn, play, and experience more throughout the quarter.
Take a look at pictures from our overnight camping trip at Cal-Wood on CAP’s Photo Site.
The sun peaked in on the Cottonwood Institute instructors as they trekked up the steepest part of the hike to Francie’s Cabin, near Breckenridge, CO. Within minutes the temperature change took them from cold to sweating, shedding their early morning layers. A short time later they broke into a clearing just below the hut, revealing sun-drenched bowls and mountain ridges covered in snow: Colorado splendor at its greatest. This was the playground and backdrop of the The Logan School Winter Survival Day with Cottonwood Institute.
The action-packed day with Environmental Education Teacher Elizabeth Wroe, her students, and three additional chaperones was pretty epic. Amid winter survival skills training, snow fights would spontaneously erupt and then deteriorate into another round of laughter. It became clear early-on that Logan teachers and students share a special bond – and that Cottonwood instructors weren’t immune to being tackled in the snow. This was a great group with which to work – and the Logan School and the Cottonwood Institute were a perfect match.
The day included hard skills like quinzhee and trench shelters, fire-starting, and survival kits –but also the less concrete knowledge of winter injuries, survival mentality, and even talk of extirpation –flew by in a blur. The students and staff were enthusiastic, positive, super-interested, and a real pleasure to work with – not to mention experts at melting snow for water before the instructors even arrived. And all that in the midst of hauling gear around at altitude, in two feet of snow, with cold temps. Everyone certainly worked hard – and played harder.
It was a real pleasure to work with this group. After all, it’s hard not to have fun when you’re playing ‘Ninja’ or dancing like a penguin in knee-deep snow with two dozen other people. Many thanks to the Logan School for our continued collaboration on great courses! For more images from the course see this link.
Written by Cottonwood Institute Instructor Doug Hill
Just a few weeks ago, students from STRIVE Preparatory Schools – Lake Campus embarked on a great adventure up to the mountains to the Cal-Wood Education Center. Some students had never been camping before and all were very excited. The overnight trip was facilitated by the wonderful Kristin Maharg and Megan Fettig, as part of an 8 week “Enrichment”; a class that 6-8th graders elect to take over the course of the term. The enrichment was a partnership between Strive Prep – Lake and the Cottonwood Institute, and we were very happy to have Kristin in the classroom once a week working directly with students.
Much of the course was focused on team-building and the class made so much improvement over the course of the eight weeks. At first, teamwork was a major challenge, but by the time we arrived at the campsite after week 8, the students were eager and ready to work together to set up camp. Throughout the trip, I was very proud to see my students working hard and giving it their all. During the first hike to the top of Solitude Point, many students were quickly exhausted, but pushed on anyway. When we reached the top, Megan led a sensory awareness exercise that one student later highlighted as the “peak” of her outdoor experience.
After some games, food, and learning how to build a fire, Kristin facilitated an activity called the blind drum stalk, where the students walked out into the dark, away from the fire, closed their eyes, and walked back guided by nothing more than the beat of a drum. This was an activity that I particularly enjoyed participating in and many of the kids did too. As one student recounted,”It’s a bit uncomfortable, but it can be a profound experience if you keep silent and depend only on your ears for guidance.”
The next morning, I woke up early to the sound of chattering boys and gathered them around the extinguished fire. I told them that I was going on a morning hike up to the top of Solitude Point to see the sunrise and asked if they wanted to join. I expected only one or two to agree after their struggle from the previous day. But contrary to my expectations–as so often is the case–the boys were excited to hike to the top with their teacher. After struggling to reach the top once again, we had a great few minutes of silence and awe as we looked around at the mountains and the valley below. One student spotted several deer, and just seconds later, another student spotted another few, a bit further down the valley.
As we hiked down, I could tell the boys were proud of their accomplishment (and also of waking up before the girls) and we talked about the importance of pushing yourself beyond your limits. The whole trip was a great experience and really reminded me how much of a privilege it is to work so closely with my incredible students. HUGE thanks to Kristin, Megan, Cal-Wood and everyone at the Cottonwood Institute for all of their support with this program. I’m so glad there are people that care so much about these sorts of experiences and look forward to working closely with them again soon.
Written by: Nathan Pai Schmitt, (aka, Mr. Pai) 6th grade writing teacher at Strive Prep – Lake
Acknowledgements: Cottonwood Institute could not offer our programs for STRIVE Preparatory Schools without funding from Avnet Technology Solutions, Carson Foundation, New Belgium Brewing Company, and our incredible donors and supporters.
Early in November, Longmont youth from Casa de la Esperanza enjoyed a balmy autumn day in the foothills as part of Cottonwood Institute’s Mini CAP. The Mini CAP is a six session environmental service-learning program that encourages students to get engaged with local environmental issues on a personal and community level. As part of the program, students develop their critical thinking and problem solving skills while simultaneously expanding their awareness of the natural world and their relationship to it.
Upon arriving at Heil Ranch, Students were greeted by sneaky wild turkeys and an outspoken Steller’s Jay skirting the parking area. When everyone was acquainted with each other, the students learned how to use their “owl eyes” (wide-angle vision), their “deer ears”, and how to walk softly, like a fox. When everyone was feeling at home and awake in their natural surroundings, the crew made their way up the Lichen Loop Trail, learning about local flora and fauna on the way. When the charred aftermath of a recent burn came into view, the students were quick to take notice. Standing high on the hillside, they let loose an inspired string of inquiry about the ecology of forest fires and fire’s relationship with current residential developments, and gained some new perspective.
Sitting around the lunch-table rock, the Mini CAP participants posed questions and explored their relationship to the local ecosystems. Water-use, mining operations, forest fires, the use of pesticides on crops and Colony Collapse Disorder were all issues that students were concerned with.
After the heady lunch-time conversation was wrapped up, the group headed down the hill to hop in the van and return to Longmont- but not before a game of Camo! Students learned to camouflage themselves with debris and test the sharpness of their senses by hiding amid the rocks, trees and grass of Heil Ranch. A spotter closed their eyes and counted to 15 while the hiders found their spots, the only rule being that those hiding must always be able to see the spotter. When the 15 seconds were up, the the spotter made their best attempt at pointing everybody out. It’s harder than it sounds, and it was a hit!
We look forward to more warm days in the spring, when Casa’s Mini CAP participants will design a project to address a local environmental issue they are concerned about.
Written By: Kyle Brennis, Cottonwood Institute Instructor
Colorado Youth for a Change (CYC), a dropout prevention program in Denver and Boulder County, participated in a unique Cottonwood Institute program called the Music Survival Project in October 2012. In addition to practicing essential camping and survival skills, students explored music in nature, slam poetry with The Slam Movement, and how to find their own wild voice! The students learned a lot about camping, each other, working together and what it takes to live outside. They were inspired by the natural world and took many insights from their time with the Cottonwood Institute.
The weekend was definitely a chilly one! With wind and precipitation threatening, the students were real troopers keeping the fire stoked and wood hunting when needed. Once camp was set up and the fire was roaring, more than music and camping skills were being learned. “Sitting by the fire. The sweet sound of water in the dark, makes everything calm and steady. No cities. No cars. No parents. Just us, getting to know each other – being comfortable… “ – Frida
The group made instruments, went for a hike, discussed self-expression, sang around the fire and played games. A favorite was the blind drum stalk, here is what one participant had to say about his experience: “My favorite thing I experienced in this weekend was when we did an activity in which you closed your eyes, out in the middle of the night, and walked through the woods alone with the sound of the drum guiding you. I actually learned that I had my 6th sense … which changed my whole life. Being afraid of many things in life, but closing my eyes and having the feeling that I have to get out there somehow and really just not being afraid, impacted my life.” -Ivan L.
As with many trips, the activities set the stage, yet somehow, the little things make for the most meaningful experiences. CYC counselor Angel Salathe said, “It was really fun watching the student’s lives being transformed with experiences they had never had before. Whether it was having never made/eaten oatmeal or never having set up a tent, I could see my students looking at the world in ways they hadn’t before.” Those ways of looking at the world brought them back to where they were; the woods. As the second day came and went, students were able to let the natural world seep into them and their thoughts. From trees to mountains, to moving water, the inspiration and power of the outdoors found it’s way into participants minds:
“Nothing can compare to the smell of trees. All that liberty. All that power. All that peace.” -Frida M.
“Nature, I believe is the perfect inspiration for songs and art. A river has a reflection and like most art forms, tells a story. Like a river runs through the mountains, music runs through my veins. It’s a constant beat, and yet, never the same.” – Ambrey
The trip was a great success and we look forward to collaborating with Colorado Youth for a Change in the future. Thanks to all those who made this trip run smoothly!
They broke into two teams for an extreme competition where they battled it out. The winner would receive serious bragging rights and the loser had to buy the first round at Oskar Blues after the course.
They participated in a few games to get things rolling, completed a survival scenario to learn about survival priorities, and then kick in their A-game to compete in a survival shelter competition. Who won? You be the judge.
Because we were in a fire ban this summer, we unfortunately did not have a chance to practice our mad survival fire making skills, but we did have a chance to organize a throwing stick competition before our lightning safety skills were put to a real test. An afternoon storm rolled in quickly, the temperature dropped, and a severe downpour and lightening ensued, so we decided to head to the safety of our vehicles and get out of Dodge.
After making it out of the field safely, but very, very wet, we relived the crazy day over a refreshing brew at Oskar Blues. Overall, it was a good day and everyone left with the confidence that they have what it takes to survive if they ever get caught out in the mountains.
To check out a slide show of the action, Click Here.
In memory of Zach Johns.
Under the warm August sun, Cottonwood Institute and City Wild partnered up for a service learning project with Growing Gardens in Boulder. We were treated to a tour of this amazing property and walked along rows of sunflowers, heirloom tomatoes, bell peppers, squash, and potatoes. In the Children’s Peace Garden, we ate grapes off the vine, investigated the pizza garden, and even tasted a variety of edible flowers. Along the way, Connor, one of the Growing Gardens staff, taught us about how potatoes grow, the special qualities of their lemon squash, and even picked us a purple bell pepper. We tapped into our prior knowledge from science class to understand how photosynthesis works to grow our food. While walking through the community gardens, we saw many different varieties of vegetables and flowers, and different ways to organize a garden on small plots of land.
After the tour, we had the opportunity to discover hands-on, the hard work that goes into organic gardening. Using hands, tools, muscles, and drive we weeded rows of sunflowers. Some of us sought shade beneath the sunflower canopy by crawling under the leaves to do more precise weeding, while others used hoes to weed larger areas. The sunflowers looked happy by the time we were finished!
During our long lunch break in the shade, we cut up and ate juicy tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, and jalapenos – all still warmed from being ripened in the sun! Yum!
Following lunch, we spent time learning more about Growing Gardens’ CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). Teens participating in the summer Cultiva Youth Project are responsible for running the CSA. The CSA provides fresh, local, certified organic produce to many members for 20 weeks during the summer. We were able to pick the cherry and grape tomatoes for this weeks’ CSA. While picking the tomatoes, we learned how to tell when a tomato is ripe, and how tasty they are when pulled directly from the plant!
We had a wonderful day in the garden with City Wild and the Growing Gardens staff. We’re excited to take all of what we learned back to our everyday lives, and maybe even plant a small garden in our backyards!
Written by Katie Craig. Edited by April Pishna.
In mid July a group high school girls from Colorado Youth for a Change in Boulder (a drop-out prevention program), along with one girl who flew all the way to Colorado from the DC area just for this course, spent four days at beautiful Sunrise Ranch learning the ways of sustainable agriculture on Cottonwood Institute’s Cesar Chavez Organic Gardening Project. Upon arrival at the ranch, a smiling straw-hatted, bearded man, Patrick, greeted us eagerly and warmly, setting the tone for the entire course. We toured the property picking apricots out of the trees along the way, and learning that this has been a small farming community for decades. We ended the tour on top of a hill in a beautiful ponderosa forest above the farm, our home for the next four days.
After camp set-up and lunch, we headed back down the hill for our first session of farming. Patrick and the interns living on the farm taught us all about harvesting garlic, cucumbers, and broccoli. Harvesting cucumbers was a highlight as we all got to munch on them while working. To wrap up our afternoon of farming, Patrick thanked us for coming to the farm. One of our students returned that thanks by stating, “You inspire me to garden and thanks for getting us out!”
On the second day we started the day off with a peaceful sit-spot. Many of us looked down into the valley over the farm, with the red cliff bands glowing in the morning light and the songs of meadowlarks accompanying the view. We spent the entire day on the farm, weeding the corn and beans and harvesting four huge buckets of basil. In the afternoon Patrick sat with us under the apple tree while we picked the basil leaves from the stems. As we worked, he taught us about permaculture and even played some banjo for us. After dinner we sat on Moonrise Rock and had an engaging discussion about Cesar Chavez, food, and the agriculture industry. We watched lightning in distant thunderstorms as the light faded and the stars came out.
Wednesday morning started at 6am as we woke up to the yips and howls of coyotes in the valley. Half of us went down to the fields to help move the sprinkler pipes. Working together we lifted the pipes, helping the farmers move the sprinklers in half the time it would normally take. We rewarded ourselves with a frolic through the sprinklers to cool down and ended the morning with a meditation circle, where we learned a Navajo song about beauty and sang and danced in the dewy field. We spent the remainder of the day re-making Shelly Mo, a giant Mother Earth turtle pizza oven that had been washed away in the rain. Everyone got down and dirty mixing together the clay, water and manure mixture to make up her shell. We got the afternoon off at the pool, and after relaxing for a while we went back to the farm to make pizzas in our finished oven. The interns helped us harvest onions, basil, beets, zucchini, kale, and garlic to put on our very own pizzas! We even got to have pesto sauce made from all the basil we picked the day before.
We had an amazing evening hanging out with the interns making delicious food. By the time we had to head back up, we were all full of pizza, a familial love and a real sense of the community around farming. Once again we sat on Moonrise Rock, this time with a fit of giggles, giddy from the evening of fun. Once we calmed down we had a touching thank you circle to wrap up our last night on the farm.
On our final day we finished weeding and planted flowers, leaving behind a blossoming memory for the interns and Patrick. We held a roses, thorns, and buds circle followed by many goodbye hugs from our new friends on the farm. Patrick and the interns taught us so much about sustainable agriculture, love for one another and our planet, and how we can all make a difference for the environment with our decisions around food. One student stated that her time on the farm “opened my eyes to the issues of modern agriculture and what individuals can do to make a positive impact for sustainability.”
Many thanks to Sunrise Ranch for giving us an opportunity to learn in such a beautiful place and to Patrick for giving us his expansive knowledge on farming!
Click here for pictures of the adventures!
Written by Kelly Muller. Edited by April Pishna.
Imagine backpacking through the beautiful desert of Utah, living on nothing but raw foods consisting of fruits and nuts and having no tents or sleeping bags; only poncho shelters and your clothes to keep you warm. You may be hungry, tired, hot or cold at times, but the challenges make you enjoy being in this place even more. You look around at the oranges, yellows, and grays of the sandstone formations and take a deep breath of the dry, sagebrush-scented air. At night, you gaze into the galaxies and watch shooting stars in the dark desert sky. Oh to be living so simply in such a beautiful place!
This was the reality of nine enthusiastic seniors from Colorado Academy, their skilled teacher, and two Cottonwood Institute instructors. Instead of BBQing during Memorial Day weekend, this group spent five days testing their wilderness abilities and pushing themselves to the limit while participating in Cottonwood Institute’s first ever San Rafael Swell Go Light Backpacking Course.
Prior to starting, every backpacker had to weigh their pack to ensure that it was no more than nine pounds before the addition of food and water. Each day the group hiked five to twelve miles through dry washes and up canyons, using a compass and map to find the way. And thanks to Delorme and Engineered Travel, Cottonwood Institute had the honor of field-testing the inReach 2-way GPS device so our administrators were able to track their route from the office.
To break up the tediousness of long treks through the hot desert canyons, students learned to identify edible and medicinal plants and were even lucky enough to find ancient pictographs. When at camp, although exhausted, the group learned primitive survival skills including bowdrill fires, knife work, traps, wood spoon-making and milkweed cordage-making. Being completely in tune and immersed in the natural world was a highlight of the trip. One student stated, “It spawned a love for nature that will last for the rest of my life.” Overall, this course was very challenging but also quite rewarding for the students.
With the combined skills of Colorado Academy’s own, Chip Lee and our two amazing Cottonwood Institute Instructors, Paul Van Horn and Clark Patton, these nine students successfully completed a trek that most people will never experience. Knowing that they can push themselves past their limits is an invaluable tool to be used in all aspects of their lives. “I am shocked at what I have accomplished. My body can do so much more than I thought. I proved that my mind is the only thing that can keep me from doing anything.” (Colorado Academy Going Light Student)
What will you do next Memorial Day weekend?
Click here for a slideshow of the adventures.
Written by Kelly Muller and edited by April Pishna.