| Teagan Papke

2022-23 Program Year In Review

A group of AXL students posing at Calwood
Pour yourself a refreshing glass of iced tea, find a cozy spot under the shade of your favorite tree, and let the gentle rustling of leaves be the perfect backdrop as we share tales from our 2022-23 journey at Cottonwood Institute (CI)! It’s a tale of young minds ignited, trails explored, and communities empowered.


In bringing together 15 educational partners and rolling out 26 unique programs this past year, we’ve woven an intricate web of environmental education, community service, and outdoor adventures across the Colorado Front Range. Our journey has been as diverse as the landscapes we traversed, from sparkling streams to impressive mountain trails, from bustling classrooms to serene camping spots. Our programs spanned the breadth of local hikes to overnight camping trips, each tailor-made to engage, educate, and inspire our incredible students. In the 2022-23 year, our programs engaged with 475 young environmental stewards. Together, we logged a whopping 25,971 program contact hours, and dedicated 10,388 of those to service learning.
A group of students at the climbing gym.
Every season has been packed full of programming. We closed last summer with Global Climbing Day, where we joined hands with ELK to take our students to new heights. During the school year, we held CAP class at five different schools across Boulder, Lafayette, Denver, and Aurora, in which students learned about local environmental issues. Winter didn’t deter AXL Academy’s CAP participants from learning animal tracking and archery one February field day, and Centaurus high schoolers explored questions about fire during their overnight trip to Calwood by visiting a wildland fire station. Students transformed their understanding into hands-on Action Projects like this impactful photovoice gallery project at New Vista High School, and emergency go bag distribution at Angevine Middle School.


“It was so fun preparing these emergency kits along with the rest of our CAP class…It was our semester action project where we decided to focus on Wildfire preparedness, after seeing how much impact it can have with the Marshal Fire. All students gathered materials including: Headlamps, cans of food, phone chargers, maps, first aid kits, masks, and a list full of other necessities attached on the outside. I believe in total we managed to get 30-40 bags assembled. Mrs. Angel was a huge supporter and helped all of us to know the change we can create in our community.” -Margot W., Angevine Middle School


We kept the action going outside of schools in our collaboration with Boulder County Parks and Open Space for the Left Hand Outdoor Challenge (LHOC) Youth Program, which saw us teaching outdoor winter skills and encouraging the youth of Boulder County to adopt a more hands-on approach towards outdoor recreation, education, and stewardship. One student discovered the joy of recreating in the outdoors during winter, exclaiming, “It’s so fun to play in the snow when you have snow pants and stuff because you can just *jumps in snowbank* do things like this!”
We’re also building a pathway beyond the classroom for alumni students to stay involved through the continuation of our award-winning Changemaker Program. Thirteen Changemaker students received certifications in lifesaving CPR and Wilderness First Aid (WFA) from the awesome team at Backcountry Pulse. These knowledgeable CAP alumni now know how to assess patients in the field, building their confidence in navigating the outdoors, and acquiring the skills necessary for industry-standard jobs like wilderness guiding, camp counseling, and even forest service and trail work.


As winter thawed into summer, the glistening waters bore witness to our Explore Outside Program as we introduced students to the joys of fishing with several partners, such as Sims-Fayola Foundation. We also ignited curiosity about Colorado wildfire ecology in our Colorado Wildfire Project with DCS Montessori. Three visits to Mission:Wolf for our Endangered Wolves Program brought us face-to-face with the majesty of nature, including an unforgettable family camping trip with Casa de la Esperanza.


“It was great! The trip was another massive success for the boys. They were able to relax, enjoy each other’s company, and catch A LOT of fish…Some young men caught over ten fish each. For many of them, it was their first time catching a fish, and to see the excitement on their faces as they yelled, ‘I got one!’ priceless. There were a lot of questions about when they could go again or return.” -Jason M., Sims-Fayola Foundation


“The families are still talking about what a wonderful time and memorable experience they had. Thank you.” -Vanessa A., Casa de la Esperanza
A group of Casa de la Esperanza students, parents, and instructors pose by the Mission: Wolf sign
To cap off a year of growth and discovery, we heralded the launch of our Colorado Watershed Project at the end of July. This is a new and exciting program that dives deep into our Colorado watersheds and the increasingly critical role water plays in our lives. Students explore riparian ecosystems, evaluate river heath, and enjoy recreation on the water. We hold immense gratitude for both our funders and instructors, who made the delivery of such impactful programming possible.


“…I am extremely discerning when it comes to organizations that I donate to…I thought you should know that I choose to make a small monthly contribution [to CI] for one reason. The amazing field instructors!…They are filling students’ cups, shining light in dark places, and making a difference in lives. Their actions and virtues confirm Cottonwood Institute is a worthy organization.” -Joseph G., Littleton Academy


Phew! What a whirlwind year it’s been! Each sunrise brought new possibilities and each sunset marked a day of fulfilled promises. As we gear up for another year of exploration and education, we are filled with gratitude for our partners, our students, and our incredible CI team, who collectively breathed life into our vision. Here’s to another year of awe-inspiring sunsets, laughter-filled group hikes, enlightening classes, and empowering projects. Get ready to strap on your boots and don your hats – we’ve got a whole lot more adventure in store for the upcoming year!


And a huge thank you to the program partners, donors, supporters, and foundations who helped make our programs possible. Please check out our Sponsors & Partners page and consider becoming a monthly donor to help invest in our students, programs, and long-term sustainability and success!


If our mission resonates with you, you can help support us by making a donation or becoming a monthly Seedling member. We appreciate your help.


DCS Students work on their service project


Written by Program Director Teagan Papke.

Categories: Program News, Updates

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