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'Sense of stewardship': Boulder County's E Movement engages students through volunteerism
By Ana Lewett, Staff Writer, Times-Call
Story was originally posted in the Times-Call >>
Excitement ramps up around the first Wednesday of every month, signifying a move from the classroom to the outside world for the children of Lyons Elementary School.
An environmental education cooperative, aptly named the E Movement, is changing the way children learn in kindergarten through fifth-grade levels around Boulder County.
Lyons Elementary is a part of the pilot project of E Movement, taking place during this school year. It was a natural fit for the elementary school that has already been working on a value system for the past three years that mirrors the E Movement principles.
The innovative project uses its E Guidelines — a set of classroom recommendations developed by the E Movement — to put an emphasis on environmental and outside education as being incorporated to standard practices. It provides a path for students to engage in their community through project-based learning, and involves the high school and larger community through volunteerism.
"We're creating a sense of stewardship in our children: from an environmental perspective, from a social perspective, from an intellectual perspective — kids being able to take on the responsibility of guiding our cultural development from a well-rounded perspective," said Andrew Moore, the principal at Lyons Elementary School.
Classroom activities were supposed to take place at the river at LaVern Johnson Park a couple blocks away, but wind advisory warnings kept the students on campus. A plethora of science and team-building activities still kept their monthly Wednesday routine in check.
"The big thing is opening students' eyes to the world around them," said Michael O'Toole, the science coordinator at the St. Vrain Valley School District. "Lyons is a unique place, and it sort of hit home with the flood and how damaged the area was. It literally closed down the community for several months. The students themselves were able to see and be a part of the rebuilding process, and are continuing to do so through this program."
The environmental education principles adopted by Lyons Elementary are not constrained to river restoration projects. Activities range from teamwork games and puzzles to nature drawing to presentations with local scientists. Through class gardening projects, more than 250 pounds of their harvest have been donated to the local food banks.
"Primary source studying of history at Lyons Redstone Museum, macroinvertebrate bio-blitz, nature drawing ... all these different unique programs allow the children to participate in authentic science, in a cohesive structure that puts them in leadership positions," said Moore.
The program vertically integrates the community by bringing in high school, parent and community volunteers to help with the day's activities. All levels interact with each other to help create a valuable lesson with help from the E Guidelines.
Each grade level is assigned high school volunteers, who take the day away from high school to spend time with the elementary school students.
Community members, such as from Estes Park Environmental Center, provide volunteer support in professional sciences.
"I work with River Watch, so I'm able to share my knowledge and tactics with the students," high school junior and volunteer Colton Jonjak said in a break from classroom activities. "I love teaching the kids; they're so cute and willing to learn."
The E Movement is the brainchild of the Boulder County Environmental Education Collaborative. Because such a high density of environmental educators exist in and around Boulder County, organizations and teachers came together to create a more applicable set of environmental education guidelines for schools to use and mold to their own fit.
"The E Guidelines were created by and for educators," said Brad Smith, of the Boulder County Sustainability Office. "They are designed to create a continuum of meaningful experiences educating the head (academic), heart (social-emotional), hands (service) and feet (sense of place) of each student as they traverse from early childhood all the way through high school."
Lyons Elementary School is the first to incorporate the E Movement Guidelines school-wide, from its preschool to fifth-grade levels. Louisville Middle School is also beginning to take on the program, as have classrooms in Boulder such as at Columbine Elementary and New Vista High School.
The hope is that the program will continue to be adopted by more and more schools, bringing holistic education to districts across the country.
"I'm the first one to say, teachers know best. We try to provide enough guidelines and direction that teachers know where to go, but can adapt to their own styles and ideas," said Smith.
Third-grader Chase Bailey says he likes the outdoor activities best. Fellow third-graders Rachel Brett, Wilma Spencer and Natalie Hutt gave feedback on each other's drawings.
"She helps me see the shape of my leaf better so I can do better on my second draft," Rachel said as Natalie points to her drawing. "I like the reflection parts best because it's relaxing and fun."
Second-grader Andrew Kepler shows volunteer Nell Coffey the tomatoes he found in a garden bed Wednesday at Lyons Elementary. (Lewis Geyer / Staff Photographer)