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.
STRIVE Preparatory Schools recently wrapped up two of our “Mini-CAP” 6-week Community Adventure Programs. The Westwood campus and the Lake campus both had a great time during their 6-weeks together, which concluded with a final overnight camping trip. During the accelerated version of our Community Adventure Program, the students played games, learned more about each other, gained knowledge about local environmental issues, and created two Action Projects to address them as a group.
Westwood campus decided to work on the environmental impact of graffiti. They were confronted with graffiti in their neighborhoods every day, wanted to learn more, and wanted to do something about it. The group spoke to Denver Parks and Recreation and clean-up professionals to learn more about the process of how graffiti is eliminated. They then choose to do a little cleaning up themselves and spent an afternoon covering graffiti in their neighborhood.
Lake campus elected to learn more about local food and revitalize a garden at school. The group dove into the idea of growing food yourself and after securing supplies, tidied up an existing garden at school and got it ready for the spring growing season.
Students had been looking forward to the overnight camping trip for six weeks, which most students shared was their favorite part of the course. Both campuses were able to join together to create a fun filled weekend and make some new friends! The weather was a little chilly but they had a great time anyway, exploring Cal-Wood and learning the basics of low impact camping. One often mentioned highlight was a hike to the Mica Mine at Cal-wood. On the way there the group spotted a bunch of old bones and had fun reconstructing creatures, both real and imaginary. The mine itself is an old dig into the hillside where mica was extracted. The area and the hole in the hill glitter with the left-over mica and at night it is quite an experience…especially with a night hike for the return trip!
Thanks to STRIVE Preparatory Schools, their enthusiastic teachers, our amazing Cottonwood Institute instructors, and Cal-Wood for hosting us. Our programs with Strive would not be possible without our donors and supporters, including Avnet Technology Solutions, New Belgium Brewing Company, and The Kenneth King Foundation.
Citizens of the United States represent about 5% of the world’s population but produce 30% of the world’s garbage. The Earth Task Force (ETF) was shocked by this amount of waste production. For years the ETF has searched for ways to reduce waste production at New Vista High School (NVHS) and save precious natural resources. Past projects have included recycling campaigns, reuse campaigns and a student-run composting program. Now they have been rewarded for all that hard work! At the beginning of April 2013 ETF partnered with Eco-Cycle to help NVHS become the first Green Star High School.
Eco-cycle’s Green Star Schools program works with schools with the goal of zero waste. The end goal is that none of the school’s waste is thrown into the landfill. Green Star Schools is a comprehensive program that involves educating the staff and student body about what goes where and it includes an industrial composting system!
For the last 4 years the ETF had been using an on site compost where compost was taken by the ETF’s members to an area at the back of the school. Unfortunately, it meant that not all products, like meat and dairy, could be composted and compostable flatware and silverware still had to be thrown away. Because of ETF’s hard work running the backyard composting program, they were thrilled to become a Green Star school and gain the ability to expand the compost program with an industrial level system. The industrial composting from Eco-Cycle now allows many different kinds of items to be composted at New Vista further reducing the waste we produce.
The Earth Task Force and Ecocycle hosted a Green Star School launch on April 3rd, which included a student written skit performed by students and staff to educate the NVHS community about the importance of conserving our precious natural resources. Eco-cycle introduced the new recycling and composting systems. At the end of the presentation representatives from each classroom came to pick up trash, recycle, and compost bins for each room in the school. The launch was fun for the entire school and a great way to start off the Green Star School program. Students are happy about the new waste disposal system and the amount of foodstuffs being composted rather than thrown away. The office staff has decided to host zero waste events with financial support from the Earth Task Force.
Written by student journalist Allison Bell.
The Earth Task Force 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.
Cottonwood Institute is starting another season of our 6-week Community Adventure Program with Casa de la Esperanza in Longmont, CO. It’s been a rough start with school canceled due to snow and cold blustery days keeping many activities indoors. Despite the weather, we have a dedicated group of students getting to know each other and starting to learn about environmental issues.
The first class was a great introduction both to the new students and to the world around them and the idea of environmental issues. Now after a second session, the students are getting acquainted with the importance of local environmental issues, from plastic bottle waste, to climate change, finding local food and recycling. They spent the class learning about local issues and have the task of bringing back information on one they are interested in next week when they will pick their issue and start in-depth research on their topic.
After completing their project in mid-May, the group will go on an overnight camping trip to explore the outdoors further and celebrate what they have accomplished! This weekend at Cal-Wood Education Center will be their culminating experience with Cottonwood Institute. We hope the weather is a little warmer for them by then!
The 2013 Base Camp Bash is almost upon us on Saturday, April 20th, 2013 from 7-10pm at Artwork Network in Denver, CO.
What is the Base Camp Bash you ask? Only the most fun and exciting event the Cottonwood Institute hosts once a year to raise money to support our programs to connect students to the outdoors and empower them to tackle local environmental issues.
- The Best Food And Beverages Denver Has To Offer: We will be featuring “S’mores Pancakes” from Snooze, Cottonwood Organic White beer from Wynkoop Brewing Company, and great wine. For just a few more bucks you can come to the VIP party from 5:30pm – 7pm before the main event and enjoy a local cocktail tasting with mixologists from Ace Eat Serve and Steuben’s featuring spirits from Leopold Bros. and appetizers from The Kitchen restaurant.
- A Fabulous Silent Auction: We have adventurous auction items, including: A luxurious 4-night stay to one of 20 exotic locations courtesy of Portico, outdoor gear from Mountainsmith, restaurant gift certificates to the best restaurants in Denver like Root Down, and much more! To check out what we have so far and to start bidding, Click Here.
What’s that? You have another commitment that night you just can’t wiggle out of? Well it better be a good excuse…But seriously, you will be missed, AND there are still two ways you can help:
- You can Pre-Bid on our amazing silent auction items until Friday, April 19th, 2013 at 5:00pm. Pre-bids will open up the bidding at the main event on April 20th, so if you can’t come and you really want something, bid high! Remember, we all need to buy gifts for friends and family, so why not shop at our auction and support a great cause?
- You can make a Tax-Deductible Donation to help support our programs for underserved students. School budgets are still being cut and the Cottonwood Institute is providing life-changing programs for underserved students in the Denver/Boulder area. All donations from the Base Camp Bash help support our high priority programs with Casa de la Esperanza, New Vista High School, Operation: Military Kids, Strive Preparatory Schools, and more.
We could not pull all this off without the incredible support of our sponsors and VIPs this year. They support great organizations like the Cottonwood Institute, so please support them!
$5,000+ Level Sponsors
$2,500 Level Sponsors:
Dr. and Mrs. John M. Church, Jr.
$1,000 Level Sponsors:
Anonymous, Dr. and Mrs. Stefan Mokrohisky, Dr. and Mrs. William Conway, Linda Bjork, Mr. and Mrs. Chris Zook
$500 Level Sponsors:
Mr. and Mrs. Stephen Waters
Here are a few quick updates from the New Vista High School Learning Garden Crew:
- We raised $5,000 to support the Learning Garden. This money is allocated to our Garden Coordinator position and will support it for two years!
- We hired an experienced educator and marvelous Garden Coordinator, Melanie Goldbort. Melanie is skilled in gardening and passionate about connecting people with their food. One of her goals in life is to create a new generation of farmers. She also co-founded Boulder Family Farms. To read her full bio Click Here.
- Melanie is meeting with teachers to write standards-based garden lessons for high-schoolers! Thank you teachers for taking the time!
- A garden club for students at NVHS will begin this April. The 1st meeting will be Thursday, April 25th, 2013. Stay tuned for more information. Or Email Melanie if you are already interested.
- We have received word from Boulder Valley School District that they will support our garden with funding this year. We’re going to buy seeds, tools, irrigation materials and more.
- We will be partnering with Boulder Food Rescue to donate a large part of our harvest to communities in need and our Learning Garden will officially be named a “Garden Against Hunger.”
- We need volunteers of all ages to love, care for, and eat from our garden this summer. If you or someone you know is interested in helping out, please Email Melanie Goldbort.
The New Vista High School Learning Garden 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. Learning Gardens are a product of The Kitchen Community in Boulder, CO.
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
“If the sight of the blue skies fills you with joy, if a blade of grass springing up in the fields has power to move you, if the simple things in nature have a message you understand, rejoice, for your soul is alive.” – Eleanora Duse
Despite a mid-winter summer in the Front Range, the Cottonwood Institute managed to find blue skies and deep snow a couple of weeks ago. Upon meeting in Boulder on Saturday morning, our crew of 15 outdoor aficionados played games and got to know each other; we’re now able to recite each others names and favorite scar stories! Eager to get into the mountains, we loaded into a few cars and caravanned up past Ward to Brainard Lake Recreation Area for our annual Instructor Training weekend.
To escape the weekend crowds, we snowshoed off the main trail and found a more secluded space with deep snow drifts. We dove right into reviewing our winter survival skills and general curriculum. With an occasional wind howling down from the Continental Divide to our base camp, reviewing the laws of thermodynamics became timely and practical. We kept our bodies warm by digging out snow shelters like quinzhees and trenches (aka technical snow forts), and through the ever-entertaining “Tasmanian Toe-Tap.” We also practiced our winter fire making skills, warming our hands with one-match fires, strikers, and bow drills.The day provided us with a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with ourselves, fellow-instructors, and the natural world. With the sun starting to dip towards the horizon, we headed back to Boulder to the warm comforts of home.
On Sunday morning, we again started the day with more games! With a little energy out of our systems, we settled in to closely examine the goals and mission of the Cottonwood Institute. We studied course progressions, perused paperwork, reviewed the “cycle of hope”and the “cycle of cynicism”, brainstormed risk management scenarios, and shared new ways of debriefing. The morning proved efficient and effective, helping us all become better educators and instructors.
A big high five and thank you to all of the instructors who contributed to such a fun, inspiring, empowering, and educational weekend. The Cottonwood Institute is fortunate to have such an amazing group of instructors!
Check out more pictures from our instructor training weekend!
We are wrapping up another incredible programming year with the Cottonwood Institute and have been blown away by the students we have served and the Action Projects they have taken on to improve their schools, the community, and the environment.
In 2012, we served over 375 youth, logged over 15,000 program contact hours, and recorded over 6,500 service-learning project hours “changing the world, one adventure at a time!”
So what were our students actually up to you ask? Here is a list of our Top 10 Inspiring Stories from 2012:
Please consider making a tax-deductible donation before December 31, 2012 to help make sure we have the resources to continue to deliver amazing programs in 2013 by Clicking Here.
Happy Holidays from the Cottonwood Institute!
The Explore Fund’s mission is to inspire and enable the next generation of explorers by funding non-profit organizations that are working to re-connect children with nature. By encouraging an active healthy lifestyle and protection of our natural landscapes, a stronger connection of youth to the outdoors can be nurtured.
Cottonwood Institute was selected from more than 900 applications submitted for the first of two grant cycles in 2012, because of our mission to connect underserved students to the outdoors and to empower them to tackle local environmental issues. Since The North Face Explore Fund was initiated in 2010, The North Face has provided more than $1 Million in grants to non-profits all over the world working to connect youth to the outdoors, with more than three quarters of that going to programs in the United States.
Funding from this grant will enable Cottonwood Institute to continue to develop our partnership with Casa de la Esperanza, a residential community dedicated to helping agricultural workers in Boulder County. The community is owned and operated by the Boulder County Housing Authority in the City of Longmont. This center provides educational and recreational services to Casa residents, including an onsite after-school program and academic center. According to Carlota Loya Hernandez, Program Coordinator for the Casa Learning Center, “For the last year, the Cottonwood Institute has partnered with our community to provide incredible enrichment opportunities for our youth. Crucial to the Casa Learning Center’s mission, the Cottonwood Institute compliments our program by focusing on enhancing the children’s educational opportunities. The Cottonwood Institute has benefited and enriched the lives of over 20 children of the Casa community this past year. This included hikes, environmental and sustainability classes on site, and overnight camping at Calwood Outdoor Education Center. These opportunities would not be available to our community without the support of the Cottonwood Institute and their high quality staff.”
“There can be so many barriers to getting kids outdoors, whether it be a disability, health resources or simply a lack of access. A large percentage of the grants went toward funding organizations that are addressing these issues by providing access and education,” said Ann Krcik, director of Outdoor Exploration at The North Face. “We believe that if you can get kids to love the outdoors, not only will they develop skills that will help them throughout life, but they will grow up to care about their natural world, protecting and conserving the wild places they explore”
Stay tuned for more information about our program with Casa de la Esperanza!
About The North Face®
The North Face, a division of VF Outdoor, Inc., was founded in 1968. Headquartered in San Leandro, California, the company offers the most technically advanced products in the market to accomplished climbers, mountaineers, snowsport athletes, endurance athletes, and explorers. The company’s products are sold in specialty mountaineering, backpacking, running, and snowsport retailers, premium-sporting goods retailers and major outdoor specialty retail chains.