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Summit County students connect through environmental education

Janice Kurbjun
Summit Daily News
Special to the Daily Natalie Cuadrado oversaw fifth graders Abby Johnson, Meaghan Flannagan and Steven Nixon's (from left to right) work during Monday's Education in Action event at Frisco Elementary. Education in Action is a Keystone Science School program for eighth graders to learn about socio-environmental issues from varying points of view. Monday's activity allowed eighth graders to share their knowledge with younger students.
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In a lesson that taught “everything goes downriver,” eighth-grade students with Keystone Science School’s Education in Action project worked with fifth-grade students throughout Summit School District Monday to discuss the effects of development along Rocky Mountain riverbanks.

Several groups of fifth graders paired with one eighth-grade student instructor. Scattered across the Frisco Elementary classroom, they doodled development along theoretical riverbanks drawn on pieces of paper.

Roller coasters, a sports complex, shopping center with restaurants, and snowboarding hill with a flying donut lift filled the mountainous valley assigned to eighth-grader Ani Monroe’s group. Their setting was meant to symbolize the headwaters of the river the students were to examine.

“We tried to develop our land so people could live there,” Monroe said. “So, we made homes and places to work and have fun.”

Downriver, another group had placed a burning Phoenix in the sky and a basketball court along the riverbanks. Another group had a Play-Doh factory that spilled its waste into a dammed river, a skate park and a canyon with spikes that killed anyone who entered. At the end of the river, Natalie Cuadrado’s group depicted a picturesque cohabitation with the river environment – birds in a tree with a swing, a home set next to the river with a well for its water, a pond with cattails and ducks, and kayakers, rafters and fisherman enjoying the river.

“So what’s in the river?” Cuadrado asked the elementary pupils once all the sections were taped together.

After pausing a moment to think, several hands shot up.

Trash, they said, from the homes in the mountain valley – with no landfill, it might blow into the stream and get carried downriver.

Fish killed by the Play-Doh factory waste, blood from the canyon, debris from the burning Phoenix and maybe chemicals from snowmaking on snowboarding hill would come down into the watershed, too, students said.

“By the time it gets here, it’s all dirty,” Cuadrado said, pointing at her group’s downriver development.

“The people who live at the end of the river don’t have clean water,” Monroe added.

They then asked the fifth grade students to consider what comes into Dillon Reservoir from Summit County’s mountain developments – chemicals from road treatments, minerals from leaky mines, contamination in snowmelt, and more.

“We live in one spot with a small ecosystem, and it’s part of a larger ecosystem,” said Keystone Science School programs director Dave Miller, who was overseeing Frisco Elementary activities. Silverthorne, Breckenridge and Summit Cove elementary students participated in the same activity Monday.

Monday’s aspect of Education in Action was “a cool fusion of multiple programs that have nothing to do with each other,” Miller said, explaining that the cross-grade activity incorporated the science school’s “Transitions” program, where elementary school students have the chance to ease their fears of heading to the middle school next year by asking questions of older students.

After the drawing and discussion activity, the question-and-answer session began. Are there bullies? fifth-graders asked. Is it easy to get lost at the middle school? Can you chew gum there? How do you get ready for being a sixth-grade student?

The older students fielded the questions, calmed fears and shared stories of their sixth-grade experiences. The middle school isn’t as big as it seems, they said, and once you locate your classes, getting there becomes habit. They suggested resources, such as counselors and orientation sessions, for students who still had concerns or encountered negative situations once at the school.

Middle school students involved in Education in Action participated in a semester-long study of water and mine pollution. The program aims to engage students in the process of dealing with a socio-environmental issue from varying points of view. After learning about pollution from nearby mines, students visited bodies of water such as French Creek, Miner’s Creek and Tiger Dredge to take water samples, testing for heavy metals or abnormal pH levels. They compared their findings to those of Colorado Mountain College.


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