Sixth-graders learn about environment at science school

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An instructor uses litmus paper to test the pH of a water sample for a lesson about the chemical properties of river water during the Yampa Valley Science School at the Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp outside Steamboat Springs on Wednesday.

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Sixth graders Hunter Anderson, right, and Senceray Kelley collect bugs in a meadow at the Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp outside Steamboat Springs on Wednesday during the Yampa Valley Science School.

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A group of middle school students participate in a lesson about the chemical properties of river water during the Yampa Valley Science School at the Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp outside Steamboat Springs on Wednesday.

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Science camp

Science Camp

Science Camp

— Christine Krientz ran through an open meadow Wednesday swinging a butterfly net wildly through the air, trying to snag an insect.

"We found this really cool green bug, and it had four wings, and its wings were green and white, and it was so cool," said Krientz, who named the bug "Bob."

"It's huge. We have grasshopper-zilla," she said.

Bob was too big for a bug-viewing box that was part of Yampa Valley Science School lesson on the ecosystem of meadows, so Krientz grabbed the net and continued the hunt.

"I just think it's so much more of a memorable time than sitting in a classroom, so their attention is a lot greater," said Margo Beswick, 26, a senior volunteer at the science school, which borrows the aspens, conifers, wetlands and meadows surrounding the Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp outside of Steamboat.

"It's also a chance to get to know their classmates better and get to know kids they didn't know in elementary school," she said. "I also think it gets them to make a connection with the natural world and to appreciate where they live a little bit more."

Sheila Wright, program director for the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps, which runs the annual science school, said enrollment in the program has jumped this year because of student growth in the Steamboat Springs School District.

"We will have close to 200 sixth-graders through the whole program this year as opposed to the 170 or so we had last year," said Wright, who noted that as enrollment increases, so does the fundraising to help pay for each student.

"Families pay $125," she said. "The cost of putting one child through the program is closer to $300, so we make up the difference with local funding through local business sponsorships, individual donors, parents and some foundations."

Wright added that the program couldn't succeed without the support of the participating school districts.

"The districts help us with in-kind donations," she said. "They give us their staff, transportation; they provide all the supplies. It is definitely a collaborative effort and we couldn't do it without them."

Students began their week Monday by checking out their cabins before ending the day with a fireside sing-along. On Tuesday, students returned for a three-night sleepover that included two daily learning periods and more time sitting around the campfire.

Junior leader Taylor Miller-Freutel, a Steamboat Springs High School senior, led her group through a conifer grove Wednesday, pointing out the difference between pine and spruce trees.

"They have become so much more aware already," she said. "One of our girls is talking about how she noticed there are a lot of bites and holes in the leaves. They are becoming very observant of nature."

Through interactive experiments, the students also learn about pH - or acidity - levels in Soda Creek, the importance of wetlands to forests and other lessons about mountain life zones.

"They all just have a really fun, wild time out here," said Wright, who noted students would spend Friday planting cottonwood trees along the Yampa River Core Trail.

Wright said she is pleased with the growth of the program, and she'd like to expand the school to bring South Routt students back into the program, but large-scale expansion currently is economically prohibitive.

"If we had the facilities and financial (means), we'd like to expand this program to all the kids in Northwest Colorado, but that's just not economically feasible," she said.

- To reach Mike McCollum, call 871-4208

or e-mail mmccollum@steamboatpilot.com

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