Dolores fourth- and fifth-graders discovered the thrill of hands-on outdoor education by planting Ponderosa pines near the Haycamp Mesa on Friday, April 11.
The San Juan Mountains Association and the San Juan National Forest put together the educational opportunity.
"The students were very excited," fifth-grade teacher Mr. Vaughn said. "I am glad to say they were very well behaved and helpful throughout the day."
In the past, the Haycamp area has been logged and burned with a prescribed fire in order to start new growth and prevent unplanned forest fires. As a result, it was time for new trees. The students were taught about the area by circling around three learning stations. One station instructed them on how to plant a Ponderosa pine, the second taught them about the habitat that the trees provide, and the third explained why planting new trees is important.
They were able to display their knowledge of the three main elements of fire and the four elements of a habitat and see a habitat in action.
"We study the water cycle and oxygen cycle in fifth-grade and the fourth-grade studies habitats, so both classes had the opportunity to experience some of the information they're learning in a real outdoor environment," Vaughn said.
Over the course of the day, 600 trees were planted. Each student planted five to six trees, roughly 12 feet apart. A wide area was covered.
"As a teacher, this field trip was perfect," Vaughn said. "There was a component of the classroom in the outdoors, connection with studies here at the school, and a great opportunity to provide a service to the community."
The San Juan Mountains Association, based in Durango, aims to educate its volunteers and the public, with an emphasis on students.
The fourth- and fifth grade-classes thanked the San Juan Mountains Association for the opportunity, including volunteer program director Kathe Hayes and Gabi Morey, the director of education and outreach. Speaking for both classes, Vaughn said that he hopes that similar hands-on learning opportunities will be organized for students.
"This was truly a service learning project that we hope to be able to replicate in future years and to be able to expand it to ensure students have an even greater opportunity to learn from the experience," he said.
Regan Umberger wrote and photographed this story as part of her senior-year community service project at Dolores High School.