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Spreading outdoor education throughout the Four Corners

SJMA's 4th Grade Winter School Program(Courtesy of Rachael Taylor)

As we zoom into February, San Juan Mountains Association’s education team has donned winter gear and snowshoes to continue our programs among the snowy landscape. Some highlights for our educators include school programs; the Wellness in Nature programs in collaboration with Compañeros, La Plata Open Space Conservancy, Mountain Studies Institute and Southwest Conservation Corps; and our Outdoor Education Program, SJMA’s new homeschool program.

Last week we provided a program to Ignacio 4th graders where students learned how different animals survive, and even thrive, in the winter. Students conducted experiments that demonstrated the four different types of thermal energy transfer: conduction, convection, radiation and evaporation. Those same 4th graders joined us a few days later at Haviland Lake, where they strapped on snowshoes and headed out to continue the lesson on how animals like tassel-eared squirrels and Clark’s Nutcrackers survive the coldest months.

Last week, also at Haviland Lake, Go Fish Durango generously donated an ice fishing trip to our Outdoor Education Program. Students had the unique opportunity to expand their repertoire of outdoor skills as they learned to safely navigate the ice and all hook at least a fish or two! Amid the practical skills, these kiddos also grasped the importance of patience and perseverance in waiting for their catch.

Finally, we rounded off the week with a WIN field trip with the Bayfield Boys and Girls Club. As we tromped through the snow and conducted our science experiments, their leaders asked if we could help build camaraderie among their older students. After navigating some initial ambivalence among the adolescents, they came together and built something really fun for the younger kids – and had a great time doing it.

All of us at SJMA are looking ahead to our annual Spring Break Camp where we spend the week adventuring throughout the mountains and desert with elementary-aged kiddos. Campers always have a great time learning about the ecosystems, waterways and ancestral ways of life in the Southwest and make some new friends too. For the first time, we, along with our WIN partners, are offering a Spring Break Camp for youth in Ignacio and Bayfield! Registration is now open.

Finally, our Junior Naturalist Field Camps and Adventure Camps will return this summer. These weeklong camps are filled with mornings learning at SJMA’s Nature Center, afternoons tromping in the river and adventures out on our public lands. Our registration process for our most popular summer program – the La Plata County Junior Naturalist Field Camps – has been changed to a lottery system in the hopes of making registration more equitable for families. Also, we are excited to expand our camp capacity by 30% with the addition of a 15-passenger van and expand our reach by working with our WIN partner MSI to offer two weeks of Summer Camp to Bayfield and Ignacio youth.

To learn more about SJMA’s education programs visit: https://sjma.org/learn/

Rachael Taylor, SJMA’s community education manager, is passionate about getting kids outside and seeking water-related adventures.