Students get grubby with nature

Twelve-year-old Grace Sloan, left, carries a rock she pulled out of Mesa Creek as her partners, 11-year-old Hailey Bilbrey, center, and Cara McElhiney, 12, prepare to check it for aquatic life Thursday on Grand Mesa.

It’s better than looking at bugs through a microscope in a classroom.

That was 12-year-old Grace Sloan’s assessment of a water quality experiment Thursday afternoon on Grand Mesa.

The experiment involved pulling water from Mesa Creek to look for insects in the water.

Grace is one of 45 Bookcliff Middle School sixth-graders drawn at random from a pool of 150 interested applicants to participate in the second-annual Outdoor Wilderness Lab, or O.W.L. for short. The pilot program brings students to Camp Kiwanis for five days each spring to learn hands-on lessons about water, energy, oil and gas, and the outdoors from Colorado Parks and Wildlife staff and community volunteers. Parks and Wildlife funds O.W.L.

The overnight camp-like program matches lessons to meet state standards in biology, art, physical education, math and social studies curriculum so students not only learn in a different way but keep up with what they should be learning anyway during the fourth quarter of the school year, according to District 51 spokeswoman Christy McGee.

The program is the brainchild of McGee’s husband, Colorado Parks and Wildlife District Wildlife Manager Frank McGee.

He spoke with districts that have outdoor labs on the Front Range and worked on curriculum with teachers and District 51 Science and Social Studies Specialist Teri LeFebre before setting up the lab last year.

Frank McGee and Bookcliff teacher Greg Weckenbrock lead the camp, industry experts teach some of the lessons and parents volunteer to help. 

The program expanded from 30 students to 45 this year.

The lab is limited to Bookcliff Middle School students at this time but may grow to allow room for sixth-graders from all District 51 in an undetermined number of years if the lab is deemed successful by Parks and Wildlife and the school district.

If that happens, the program will likely need a new site to accommodate more students for more of the year, as multiple weeks would likely be needed to rotate students through the program instead of sending them all at once.


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