Science School in session |

Science School in session

Area sixth-graders immersed in outdoor, social education

Hunter Gansmann, 11, plays a game to learn about how bears forage for food and how many bears can live in one habitat area. Steamboat Springs Middle School sixth-grade students are attending the annual week-long Science School camp held at Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp.
Tyler Arroyo

— Gretchen Van De Carr brought the concept of Science School when she moved here from Oregon.

In Science School, area sixth-graders spend one week during the fall participating in hands-on science learning in an outdoor environment. The “outdoor classrooms” are set up at Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp, and the students camp in the cabins and eat in a rural setting.

Van De Carr, executive director of Rocky Mountain Youth Corps, isn’t sure why the camp is offered to sixth graders, but said they respond well to the curriculum the RMYC offers.

“I know that, nationally, these outdoor-classroom programs are almost entirely sixth grade,” Van De Carr said. “The whole curriculum was developed by our staff and their teachers. It’s been changed and upgraded and fine-tuned over the years, but it’s written in a way that aligns with the (Colorado) Department of Education content standards. Secondly, it’s done in such a way that it’s basic enough that every kid will get something out of it but deep enough that the higher-level thinkers will get even more out of it.”

Science School is a two-week program.

This week, 77 Steamboat Springs sixth-graders are in Science School. Tuesday was their first night camping in the cabins.

Van De Carr said RMYC re-evaluated whether to retain camping in the curriculum one or two years after the program started in 2000, but parents and students overwhelmingly said they wanted camping to remain in the curriculum.

“The social lessons that come out of the camping are huge,” Van De Carr said. “For a lot of these kids, it’s the first time they aren’t staying at home. They are in cabins with people they don’t know. For Steamboat, these kids are coming from two different elementary schools.”

Next week, the remaining sixth-graders from Steamboat and sixth-graders from Hayden will be enrolled in Science School.

RMYC provides instructors, and high-schoolers from Steamboat and Hayden serve as junior leaders. The children eat breakfast, lunch and dinner at Perry-Mansfield.

Campers learn about aspen trees, conifer trees, meadows and riparian, or water, environments. All four topics were selected for their relevance in the area.

Science School this week wraps up Friday with cottonwood planting along the banks of the Yampa River.

Next week, the Steamboat and Hayden sixth graders will do weed eradication at The Carpenter Ranch near Hayden.

“The core curriculum is based on mountain life zones, and we’ve chosen the four mountain life zones that most closely integrate with their school classroom studies,” Van De Carr said.

– To reach Melinda Mawdsley call 871-4208 or e-mail

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