Yampatika’s Environmental Literacy Program wins statewide award | SteamboatToday.com

Yampatika’s Environmental Literacy Program wins statewide award

Hayden Elementary School fifth-grader Allison Ingols-Irwin measures wind speed with a turbine she made with her classmates Wednesday at Carpenter Ranch. The students spent the day studying renewable energy sources with Yampatika naturalists.
Scott Franz

— It’s been almost five years since Yampatika implemented its Environmental Literacy Program in Northwest Colorado schools, and the organization already is cleaning up on the awards front.

Last week, the Colorado Alliance for Environmental Education (CAEE) recognized the program with its Pre-K Elementary Education Award, which will be awarded during a March 21 banquet at the University of Denver.

The local literacy program targets elementary school students across Routt County and beyond and has been implemented in every classroom in both the Hayden and South Routt school districts. It also has reached approximately half of Steamboat Springs School District’s elementary classes, a number it hopes will rise in the coming years.

“Routt County is the only county where all elementary schools are participating in environmental literacy programming,” Yampatika Executive Director Sonja Macys said. “We have three districts, and every elementary school has access to this program.”

The Environmental Literacy Program’s primary goal is to get students out of the traditional desk-learning format and into the outdoors.

Its strict evaluation system, Macys said, is showing that outdoors learning in Routt County is making its impact felt among local elementary school students. She also said a lot of what the students go through is “hands-on and inquiry based,” fostering teamwork in the outdoors setting.

“It’s consistently showing us they are learning off the charts with these methods,” Macys said. “There are a lot of peer-to-peer learning activities, group activities and role playing. We’ve been asking the teachers to help us measure whether this approach facilitates positive peer interactions, critical thinking and problem solving.”

While brainstorming ideas for an environmental literacy program in 2008, the group, which has been working with Routt County schools for 20-plus years, determined a “sequential” idea was the missing link, Macys said.

They wanted to establish a foundation, beginning at the kindergarten level, which would spread upward toward the middle schoolers.

Always attune to what is going on nationally with environmental education, Macys said naturalists started realizing this type of programming was a hole that needed filling.

“Back in 2008, nationwide literacy programming and plans were things people were realizing they needed,” Macys said. “Also, we had enough experience that we needed to know what we needed to do in these programs to make them effective.”

Five years ago, Yampatika addressed that trend, but these days, Macys said, the new eye-opener is the lack of science in elementary school curriculum.

The program tweaks its curriculum each year, and lately, has consolidated and solidified its current lesson plans. The next step, Macys hopes, is for Yampatika to train county elementary teachers who aren’t naturalists to further expand the program’s reach.

“It’s really astounding to me that when I go network with educators in the Northwest Colorado region, it’s a unique situation and partnership,” Macys said. “We’re like teachers in the school. We are part of what they do.”

To reach Ben Ingersoll, call 970-871-4204, email bingersoll@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @BenMIngersoll

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