What a difference a few weeks made for the children of Casa de la Esperanza! The Cottonwood Institute worked with Casa youth between the ages of eight to twelve years old once a week this spring to explore the natural world, learn about local environmental issues, and take action to tackle an issue affecting their small, tight-knit residential community of agricultural families in Longmont, CO.
This spring’s mini-Community Adventure Program (a.k.a. “Mini-CAP”) started off with unexpected spring snow storms just before or during each of their Tuesday classes, but they were still able to get outside every time for a little while. That’s when they really brightened up and became engaged. While taking a stroll around a little parcel of undeveloped land early on in the course, they noticed an abundance of garbage floating in the local water drainage ditch. They became inspired to do something about it and spent the next few classes watching videos and studying up on water quality issues in Colorado.
Casa students decided to team up with the Keep it Clean Partnership, which works with storm water pollution prevention across Boulder County and the neighboring cities. They were able to provide clear information for the students on the issue, and easy tips for how Casa de la Esperanza residents can help keep toxins from running off in to their water supplies. The students worked together to bring in materials to make informative posters on the subject, a project which they approached with enthusiasm and focus. Some of the students even worked on their posters during the week, and brought them to class the next week full of color and obvious care for the cause. The posters are now displayed in the Casa de la Esperanza community building and the Longmont Public Library.
On the final day of class, the students were able to borrow a simple water testing kit from Keep it Clean, and test some local water with it. They took a field trip out to the Boulder County Fairgrounds, a small, local open space with trails and a large lake. They delighted in watching the Canadian geese and skipping stones on the water after they had filled up test tubes and dropped tablets in them to measure the concentrations of dissolved oxygen, nitrate, phosphorus, sediment, and the pH of the water. They found the water to have slightly low levels of nitrate and low oxygen saturation levels, but other than that, it was fairly healthy for aquatic life. The data was returned to Keep it Clean for their records.
The overnight camping trip was the highlight of the experience for them. Their curious minds and abundant energy thrived in the expansive parcel of land where Cal-Wood Education Center generously let the students camp and explore for the weekend. The students witnessed coyotes, deer, rodents, insects, an even a bear from afar! They hiked “father than they’ve ever hiked before” to a glimmering, abandoned Mica mine, played games to heighten their awareness of the natural world, learned several different ways to make a safe fire, and discovered bones, bird nests, and even a detached squirrel tail. As is the case for most of today’s youth, it was clearly difficult for them to give up the use of cell phones and electronics for the trip, but they bravely embraced the experience so far from their comfort zone. Even though it was tiring, the students reported feeling good after the long hike, and wanted to hike more the next day. All of the students said that they learned a lot, enjoyed the experience, and would love to take their families out camping in the near future.
To check out a slide show of their experience, Click Here.
This incredible experience would not have been possible without the generous funding of the Brett Family Foundation, Community Foundation Serving Boulder County, The North Face Explore Fund, and the enthusiasm of the Casa de la Esperanza youth, of course!
This article was written by Sandy Chervenak, Cottonwood Institute Instructor.
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
Throughout 2011 and 2012, Cottonwood Institute has been partnering with Casa de la Esperanza, a Boulder County housing community in Longmont. We have gone on day hikes, hosted movie nights, and worked on action projects. And finally, on the weekend of July 21st, we embarked on the best adventure ever – CAMPING! The forest of Calwood Outdoor Education Center echoed with the laughter of seven boys and four girls. This group of 9-14 year olds was accompanied by a team of four enthusiastic Cottonwood Institute instructors, three supportive parents and one awesome chaperone for two days of adventure and fun in the mountains above Boulder. This was the first time many of these students have ever been camping, so they were eager to learn about camping and setting up their tents. What began as a competition to see who could get their tent set up first, ultimately ended in teamwork as parents, instructors and kids all worked together to set up the tents.
After successfully setting up base camp we hiked down to a lake and had some great stone-tossing competitions. We explored around the shoreline and found caddisfly larvae crawling around, and then found hatched caddisflies landing on us! As we strolled along the shore we munched on wild mint and learned about the plants around the pond. After frolicking across the meadows of Calwood, we found a perfect place to play a game of camouflage, which quickly became everybody’s favorite activity of the weekend.
On our hike back to camp shrieks from a couple of the girls alerted us to snake sightings. We all gathered around to watch the little garter snakes slither through the tall grass. The games and activities continued well past dinner and into the evening. We played wildfire tag and talked about the impacts of fire in Colorado. Many of the kids were disappointed that we couldn’t have a campfire until the instructors whipped out no-fire-smores, glow sticks, and LED lights for a pretend fire. When our bellies were full of graham crackers with frosting and chocolate, we embarked on a night hike, where the initial fear of the dark was replaced by awe at the starry mountain sky. Not to be outdone by the darkness and yawns, we made time for a few rounds of the always exciting blind drumstalk activity, and finally exhausted, we collapsed into our tents for a restful evening under the stars.
Sunday morning dawned bright and early as the smiling Casa kids surrounded our tents, eager for breakfast and more adventures. Once we were full of oatmeal, we got our blood pumping by playing a game of Alaskan Baseball with Fred the Chicken toy, then headed over to our service project – fire mitigation. Everyone did a fantastic job hauling wood from the slash piles up the hill to the road. We were rewarded with watermelon and an energizing game of camouflage. Reflection time and a treasure circle helped bring our weekend to a close, but only because it was Sunday. If it was up to the kids we would still be there.
Thanks to The Brett Family Foundation, The Community Foundation Serving Boulder County, our donors, supporters, Cottonwood Institute instructors and staff, and the Casa de la Esperanza community for providing the students with this opportunity to enjoy and connect to the beauty of the outdoors!
Click here to check out a slideshow of the adventure.
Click here for Casa de la Esperanza’s report on the adventures. We are all in agreement – Can’t wait for next year!
Written by Kelly Muller. Edited by April Pishna.
Six weeks ago a group of boys and girls from Casa de la Esperanza gathered together in nervous anticipation for the first ever Casa CAP program.
Casa de la Esperanza (House of Hope) is a residential community in Longmont dedicated to helping agricultural workers. The learning resource center at Casa provides educational and recreational services to its residents, including an onsite after-school program and academic center. Cottonwood Institute has teamed up with Casa to offer a mini version of our core academic program, The Community Adventure Program (CAP). CAP teaches students essential outdoor and wilderness survival skills necessary to comfortably and competently explore the outdoors, while providing them with the tools and resources to tackle important environmental issues affecting their communities in order to help change the world. We put these two amazing programs together to form Casa CAP.
For the next five weeks, Casa students spent their Wednesday evenings learning about the importance of community, the wonders of nature, and how to survive in the wilderness. They became leaders while understanding the importance of being part of a team. They played outside, made fires, roasted marshmallows, created educational posters, helped an injured bird, learned about gardening and seeds, and made bird-feeders. Most importantly, though, they learned that they have the power to create change.
Casa CAP consisted of many smiles and loud laughter, crayons and paper everywhere, popcorn and marshmallows galore, pine-cones and tiny little seeds, and even one gigantic parachute. It all culminated into an action project benefiting the community and its winged friends. The students worked hard creating pine-cone bird feeders giving the birds a safe place to eat and play, while giving Casa residents the beauty of bird-song. It was a flurry of activities in a short period of time that resulted in building a stronger community and an even stronger sense of purpose. It only takes a moment!
A huge shout-out to our instructors, Eric and Deb, for their ingenuity, their flexibility, and most of all, their ability to inspire! We also could not have offered this program without funding from the Brett Family Foundation and the Community Foundation Serving Boulder County.
Until next time, relive the smiles and laughter by clicking here for a slideshow of the program’s activities.