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‘Remember it forever’
by Garrett Valenzuela
May 15, 2013 | 2230 views | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Courtesy photo -- Alice Maxwell Elementary School students attended Great Basin Outdoor School in May enabling them to catch and study organisms located in the Lake Tahoe area.
Courtesy photo -- Alice Maxwell Elementary School students attended Great Basin Outdoor School in May enabling them to catch and study organisms located in the Lake Tahoe area.
During her Tuesday afternoon class, sixth-grade teacher Jonica Nunez asked her class what they valued in their lives. To Nunez’s surprise, one student raised her hand saying “earth and nature,” which had not yet come to the minds of the rest of her class.

Despite her surprise, Nunez knew the culprit.

Sixth-grade students at Alice Maxwell Elementary School in Sparks recently returned from Camp Galilee at Lake Tahoe where they attended Great Basin Outdoor School (GBOS), a non-profit science and nature program designed to give students a learning experience they will never forget. Students and teachers from Alice Maxwell stayed four days with the crew from GBOS, allowing for extensive non-classroom education.

Everything from astronomy, geology, hiking, ecological studies and some catch-and-release hunting can be experienced during the GBOS, which achieved its non-profit status in 1998, according to Board President and Founding Board Member Sue Jacox. She said though the Alice Maxwell students came during a stormy week, it didn’t keep them from the trails, ponds and cabins of GBOS.

“Part of what we do at outdoor school is the kids act everything out,” Jacox said of the unique learning style. “They learn everything by doing instead of viewing, so they are doing it with their bodies. It was really cute and interactive while they were running around and learning about real science.”

Jacox said students were able to visit Sand Habor for a “mini-museum” exhibit, a small pond and creek to study macroinvertebrates and water quality and they covered plenty of ground during day and night hikes. Nunez said four days of outdoor learning brought new dynamics of education for her students.

“It is nice to have somebody else teach them because you see different things from different kids that you don't see here,” Nunez said. “They build different bonds with them and it is more like they are friends or someone they think is really cool and really knowledgeable. They take a lot more from that.”

Nunez said the four-day experience has translated well back into the classroom this week as the students are incorporating outdoor education into everything from skits to poems to art projects. She understands the value of hands-on learning, but admitted there is only so much she is able to do within the confines of her classroom and campus.

“They grasp the concept a lot more when they go out there than when we learn it in the classroom,” Nunez said, citing catching invertebrates with nets for study as an example.  “Actually catching the creature they were studying about made it so much more real and they understood it better. It is almost reinforcing things they have already learned.

“A lot of the things like astronomy we have already learned in the classroom and done little things, but when they actually have more hands-on experience and being in that environment you can actually see them saying ‘Oh, I get it now. That is what we were learning in class.’”

It is that chance to catch and study organisms, hike through the trails and understand more about nature that Alice Maxwell Vice Principal Megan Pruitt found most beneficial for the students. Pruitt accompanied students and teachers on the trip and she said it has inspired her to stress the importance of science throughout the school in the future.

“It is part of the students' every day world and it is part of their interdependency and how everything is connected and related,” Pruitt said Tuesday. “And also what resources and materials that we need to bring into the school so kids can have these experiences in the classroom.

“The most rewarding part was seeing the students take the time to observe our world in even the smallest little details. The naturalist was always having them look at things and think about that. I think, in turn, what it did for the kids was allow them to respect nature and our world more.”

Students attending the GBOS were able to learn more than outdoor and natural science during their down time. Students measured the amount of food waste and the amount of compost being created with each meal, graphing the numbers throughout the stay, but Nunez said they also learned life-long skills not associated with science.

“I think the most rewarding part is to see them grow and become more independent and be more responsible for themselves in how they are with each other,” Nunez said. “They acted way more mature and civil with each other than they do at school. It is really nice to see that and see them say please and thank you at the dinner table and pass their food to each other.”

Jacox said attending the GBOS takes a major commitment from the teachers and school to make it successful, in addition to fundraising efforts on both sides. Grant money from the Nevada Department of Wildlife, Nevada Fish and Wildlife Services and Nevada Division of Forestry and Division of Environmental Protection all help support bringing schools like Alice Maxwell, which is a Title I funded school, to GBOS.

“We usually decide to go the year before and we let all the students and parents know on the first day of school because for parents it is definitely a commitment,” Nunez said. “We try to help the families to plan for it because unfortunately we did not get any volunteers because our families work one and two jobs and were not able to take off during the week.

Hopefully, families at Title I schools can plan ahead and go with their kids. That is one thing we would like to see improve is getting more volunteers as chaperones.”

Even with all the “hoops” schools have to jump through getting permission and funds for the GBSO, Nunez said it is an experience all students should have for its lasting effects.

“I really think it is a great thing and I know it is a lot of work. But when you look back at it, it is amazing to see what the kids learn and how much they take from it,” Nunez said. “I had a kid today during class, while we were talking about values in life, she said the earth and nature. I know that came from Great Basin and being at camp so I know they get a lot from it and they will remember it forever.”
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