GSMS 7th-graders dive into the desert on Canyonlands field trip
In early October, a team of teachers from Glenwood Springs Middle School took 22 seventh-graders to get a first-hand experience of the ecology, geology, astronomy, history and conservation efforts going on in Professor Valley, Utah. This five-day adventure included an array of events, including an intensive ecological study of Upland and Riparian ecosystems, a simulated “Town Meeting” to encourage awareness of sociological factors in the conservation of land, and numerous community building activities where students worked together to solve problems, build trust and make impacting decisions.When students arrived on Monday afternoon, they were greeted by the incredibly educated and well-trained staff of the Canyonlands Field Institute. Three exceptional guides, Faye, John and Blair, became the students’ leaders, friends, and role models. As a team, students and leaders put forth collaborative efforts to set up camp, make dinner, do the dishes and get to know each other. As the sun set and the night sky lit up the red rocks of the Utah desert, students set off on an evening hike to establish a sense of place on the Colorado Plateau. Each day provided new experiences and new challenges to the students. Students hiked in two different areas to learn about the history, preservation and damage of the upland and riparian ecosystems in the area. As students tromped through the silky, red riverbed of Professor Creek they were taught how to calculate the waterflow and identify metamorphic, sedimentary and igneous rock, and they learned the general geologic processes that helped to form the area. On the upland hike, students traversed the rocky hillsides and studied the soil crusts, animal tracks, and current land-use issues being discussed in regards to the area. Thursday brought the students to the Colorado River, where, while floating down the water, the kids explored how the seemingly endless river carved the wonderful landscape of the Canyonlands.Each night students formed small teams to cook dinner, clean up, organize games and reflect on the day’s activities. The group leaders facilitated activities such as stargazing, a talent show, campfire circles, cooperative games and the unforgettable town meeting.At this simulated community gathering students were faced with a difficult decision. Who would buy the (fictitious) piece of local land up for sale in the area? Three groups of students acted as organizations fighting to purchase the 150-acre lot of land for sale in Professor Valley. Each group had to present its argument to the townspeople who were then free to ask questions regarding land use, water use, job availability, animal rights and long-term factors that would affect the surrounding community. At the end of the meeting the students in the audience (those playing the townsfolk) had to vote who would purchase the land: the local rancher family, the land conservationists, or the corporate developers. All students participated and this led to a wonderful sociological and environmental discussion that was easily related to our own issues here in the Roaring Fork Valley. As one of the teachers who chaperoned the trip, I can say that I was amazed to see how a group of seventh-graders connected not only with each other and their leaders, but with the physical world around them as well. In a day where the majority of middle-schoolers own Playstations and cell phones, it was inspiring and uplifting to see kids being kids. They played in the mud, told elaborate stories, giggled for hours, whispered into the night, and most importantly developed long-lasting relationships with each other, their leaders and nature. Never once did I hear a longing for a modern piece of technology, a cushy bed, or a hot shower. The kids went five days using an outhouse, sleeping in teepees, and washing their dishes in bee-laden water. In those days only their fascination, excitement and respect for the unknown was seen. Enthused and interested by the world around them, these students dove into the desert head first. With that same enthusiasm it can be assured that these lucky 22 students have had an adventure that has made an impression they will never forget.As at the end of all unforgettable adventures, the kids bid farewell to those who had become family over the week. We took one last hike to a small plateau overlooking the strikingly green and red canyon country where students formed a circle to bring closure to their week in the Canyonlands.Each student began by sharing a special memory from the week with the group. Laughter and tears were shared by all as each student said goodbye.As those who participated in the trip can tell you, it is a trip worth saving for, worth investing in, and worth taking.
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