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A Watershed Education Program Update Director, Lia Cristadoro.

At the beginning of our river health field trip with the third and fourth grade Mountain School classroom, I asked the students “what do you feel most connected to in the natural world”? Going around the circle, students expressed their joy for the earth with a collection of heartfelt responses. Some of the children shared their love for smaller creatures exclaiming “salamanders!”, “spiders!”, and “puppies!”. Others conveying the vastness of nature by sharing answers like, “cotton candy clouds”, “aspen trees”, and “stars”. To see the sparkle in their eyes and their zest for life is always the most beautiful part of our field studies. After this activity, we made our way down to the river where we set out to capture and study as many aquatic bugs as we could find. Their excitement was through the roof! A handful of them had such a fascination with their newfound friends that they gave their insects names. To be pleased with such simplicity is a priceless gift children have to offer our world. I have discovered that these youthful moments of genuine connection with nature are irreplaceable and forever shape a child’s future endeavors.

This fall season of the Watershed Education Program has been an exciting blend of old and new field studies, diverse curriculum, and deep connection to place. Students and teachers have participated in trips centered on the food, water, energy, and climate nexus in southwest Colorado. This year, WEP has set out to enhance environmental education in the region by emphasizing the relationship between socio-cultural systems and ecological systems. In doing so, students were given the space to better understand the complexities and intersectionality of human interactions with the natural world. Additionally, they could learn to recognize their personal role in the well-being of surrounding ecosystems and communities. Providing students with opportunities like this outside of the classroom is invaluable, and can lead to profound personal growth, kinship with the local land and resources, and a sense of understanding for diverse cultures in this place we all call home.

WEP facilitated numerous trips this past season in collaboration with classrooms and organizations throughout the San Miguel Watershed. The field studies that occurred this fall were; Basics of Farming and Gardening, Natural Weather Events, Geology and Geography from the Judd Weibe, San Miguel River Health-Aquatic Macroinvertebrates, and a Tour of the Upper and Lower Watershed-Water Conservation. Experts from various disciplines provided insight on topics such as agriculture, restoration, ecology, business, sustainability, history, recreation, conservation, and natural resource management. Students gained knowledge through the development of technical skills, critical thinking, cultural awareness, creativity, and community service.

A trip we want to highlight is the tour of the upper and lower watershed taken with Catherine Kolbet’s class of 6th grade Norwood students. Our focus was on water scarcity and water conservation efforts in the surrounding region. Students heard from the San Miguel Watershed Coalition, Telluride Ski Resort, Pinhead Institute, Indian Ridge Farms, and Master of Environmental Management students with Western Colorado University. Each of these collaborators touched upon their specific concerns around the future stability of the watershed. Students were shown diverse perspectives on water in the west and the issues we collectively face as environmental degradation and climate change worsen.

Our greatest takeaway from this recent fall season of WEP is that it is incredibly important to continue exposing students to the interplay between social and environmental sectors. Everything is connected and our critical thinking, problem solving, and decision making processes must be approached with this piece at the center. The vision we hold is one where our communities build stronger relationships with one another and target environmental issues with communication, creativity, and empathy. We are hopeful that these field studies continue to provide well-rounded, open-minded education to our community and encourage a deeper connection to people, place, and planet.

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