Glenwood Springs schools take hands-on learning into community | PostIndependent.com

Glenwood Springs schools take hands-on learning into community

Tatiana Flowers
tflowers@postindependent.com

Sixth-grader Irene Hernandez works with other students to make name tags for the Roundup River Ranch as part of the national EL Learning Better World Day on Friday, May 4. For more Better World Day photos go to page A8.

Students at Glenwood Springs Middle School assembled bookmarks for the local library, distributed thank-you bags to police officers, firefighters, and other public service workers, picked up trash within the community, and sewed bags for children with severe disabilities.

It was all in a day's work on May 4, which was designated as "Better World Day" by Expeditionary Learning schools across the country.

The new, full day of hands-on activity is committed to not only bringing students outside of the classroom but also encourages team work and giving back to the community that has supported their learning.

"I think it's something that our school has been wanting to do for a while," said Autumn Rivera, a sixth-grade teacher at the middle school, who piloted the school's first ever "Better World Day."

She says an idea similar to "Better World Day" surfaced for her last summer, and she spent about half the year formulating the idea. It wasn't until she attended an event called National EL Day that she decided to bring the "Better World Day" event to Glenwood Springs Middle School.

GSMS incorporated the new curriculum called EL education, or experiential learning education, as referenced by Rivera.

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The middle school is still in its first year of implementing the new curriculum, following Glenwood Springs Elementary School, which became the Roaring Fork School District's first official EL school five years ago.

"Better World Day" was the most recent activity EL education steered, with more than 50,000 students and teachers in more than 100 schools taking part, according to the official EL site.

"Each crew decides what project to do and for some students that means doing a project they might not feel comfortable with at first," Rivera said in a press release.

"Crew" is an element of EL education, now used in all Roaring Fork Schools, where students, teachers and others are encouraged to work together as crew members, and not just be passengers. "The structure of crew allows for relationship building, academic progress monitoring and character development," according to the EL site.

"We want to challenge students to step out of their comfort zone and take a risk in their learning," Rivera said.

And for some students, the experience was exactly like that.

Blake Nieslanik, 14, said he and other boys in his eighth-grade class sewed bags for children with disabilities at Round Up River Ranch, and that he and many of his teammates had never sewn before.

"I think we helped out," said Nieslanik. "My class sewed about 40 bags, so that's 40 kids that have something now. Every class did something, so everybody made a difference."

Some of the middle school students had the opportunity to participate in the EL education program as students at Glenwood Springs Elementary School.

Students like Sydney Schriock say that, without EL education, she wouldn't realize how certain factors or choices impact her community. She's nostalgic about a camping trip she and others participated in at Glenwood Elementary School years ago, as part of the EL educational learning program.

"I remember we had a river expedition where we studied bugs and stuff and we learned about pollution and how to help our rivers. I think that was a great unit because that's a big part of Glenwood Springs," she said.

Schriock made this recollection as students at her former elementary school are participating in that very project.

Holly Armstrong's fifth-grade class just spent three days camping at Colorado National Monument, learning about weathering and erosion, just like Schriock's class did when she was in elementary school.

The assignment asked students to spin a text about the rainforest from third person to first person. Armstrong says this requires them to get creative.

"It's kind of amazing what they come up with. It's cool to see where their imagination goes into," she said.

Students at the elementary school showcased their projects at their "Celebration of Learning" event last Thursday, which took place in conjunction with the grand opening celebration for the new GSES building.

The students presented their projects for friends and family and topics were different in each grade. From kindergarten through fifth grade respectively, students showcased projects about the study of: plants and the sun, bees, how to manage a community market, Storm King Fire, mining, and the heart and wellness.

The elementary school, now in its fifth year of EL learning, will prepare a significant number of students who will attend Glenwood Springs Middle School and continue on the EL track.

Rivera said teachers rely on students like Schriock, who have had previous experience, to help guide other students who are new to the program.

"It's great to see them be leaders and see them step up and take leadership, not only just of their learning but other people's learning," Rivera said.