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After a tool-safety talk and workday explanations from the Rocky Mountain Field Institute and the Catamount Institute in Juniper Way Loop's southern parking lot in the Garden of the Gods, Howbert Elementary fifth-graders and adult leaders hike toward the Ridge Trail to start their community service project.
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Howbert Elementary Principal Bryan Relich (second from right) hands a bucket with mulch to a fifth-grader who would pass it along as part of a "bucket brigade" during the students' community service project for the Catamount Institute's "Outdoor School" on the Ridge Trail in the Garden of the Gods this spring.
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Howbert Elementary enjoying 'outdoor school' program with Catamount Institute

April 21, 2018; updated April 24
       A program to get students outdoors is proving popular this school year at Howbert Elementary.
       The Pleasant Valley neighborhood K-5 school is working with the Westside-based Catamount Institute and its “Outdoor School.”
       Built into the acadmic curriculum with spread-out dates and times, the program's school-year commitment ranges from 4 hours for kindergarteners
Howbert Elementary fifth-grader Briley Roth empties a bucket with mulch into an earmarked area off the Ridge Trail as part of a Garden of the Gods project by the school with the Catamount Institute and the Rocky Mountain Field Institute this spring.
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to 10 for grades 4-5. Activities include Garden of the Gods community service projects (grades 4-5 only), collecting leaves, making bird feeders, digging for fossils and dissecting flowers and grasshoppers.
       According to Beth Austin, the outdoor school's proper name is Elevate Environmental Education (E3). She said Catamount initiated the program four years ago in the Woodland Park school district.
       Catamount, a non-profit environmental educational organization, has been headquartered at the Beidleman Center in Sondermann Park since 2004.
       The E3 goal is to meet “a handful of academic standards, mostly science, to enrich the learning experiences for students with a place-based, hands-on environmental science curriculum," she elaborated. "The school district, teachers, parents and more importantly the students view the program as an essential asset to learning.”
       Howbert Principal Bryan Relich said he is pleased with how the Catamount arrangement is opening up the outdoors to students. With Howbert so close to the Garden of the Gods and Rock Ledge Ranch, “we need to take advantage of that,” he said.
       As one proof of the program's popularity with students, “our attendance is almost perfect” on the Catamount days, Relich cheerfully pointed out.
       A parent survey going into the school year showed roughly 80 percent approval of E3, and such support has not wavered since its implementation. “Several parents
Howbert fifth-grader Nick Vigil hustles along the trail with buckets of mulch during the community service project.
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have come up to me and said they're 'so excited about what our kids are telling us,'” Relich said. “One even told me, 'Why didn't you do this three years ago?'”
       The school is in the process of finalizing plans to continue the Catamount partnership into the 2018-19 school year and beyond. Helpful from a funding standpoint is the school district defining E3 as meeting the standards for the science curriculum, the principal noted. The offering could even become a feature that "down the road, could increase enrollment," he added.
       The grades 4 and 5 community service element involves two partial workdays each. An ally in the Catamount/Howbert Garden work is the Rocky Mountain Field Institute (RMFI). Using volunteer workers, the nonprofit contracts with the City of Colorado Springs to maintain the city park's trails and drainages.
       Before starting work, the students learned about volunteer efforts in public places. These include “why it's important to give back to the community,” Relich said, and, from a maintenance standpoint, “why it's important to stay on the trail.”
       During a fifth-grade workday this spring, close to 50 students hiked nearly 1 ˝ miles from Howbert into the Garden of the Gods, where they worked for about two hours along the Ridge Trail. The starting point was the the parking lot off Juniper Way Loop, near the site of the former park visitor center (until the mid-1990s).
       The kids were guided by several adults, including Relich and teachers Lori Janson and Chelsea Green. From Catamount were Austin and the nonprofit's executive director, Chris Aaby.
       After explaining tool safety, RMFI workday leaders Chris Ullom and Kelly Kaufmann led the students up the trail to where a pile of mulch had been delivered.
       From there, the RMFI leaders set up a "bucket brigade," spacing the students and staff a few feet apart from each other going up the trail for several hundred feet. Those at the bottom shoveled mulch into buckets, which were then passed up the line. Students at the high point spread the stuff into drainage-sensitive locations that are being seeded for plant growth.
       The students energetically took on this work and ensuing errands; the only adult concern was too much energy, as a few of the students had to be asked to slow down. Maybe it was the outdoor air.

Westside Pioneer article
(Schools: Elementary/Middle Schools)

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