Hands-on outdoor experience awaits kids at Cal-Wood

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On August 13, just before the next school year begins, a big bus will arrive at East Elementary School in Littleton, ready to carry excited fifth-grade students away for four days and three nights at Cal-Wood Education Center, in Jamestown, outside of Boulder.

The 1,200-acre outdoor classroom includes forests, many species of wildlife and plants, nine miles of trails, meadows, peaks, ponds, streams, a waterfall, a 1901 homestead, an American Indian tipi, once-active mines, camping areas, cabins and a lodge.

Each child will have a new backpack filled with supplies, a Nalgene water bottle and “the coolest T-shirt ever,” according to their teacher, Nicolette Vander Veld, who with her teammate Chris Moore will accompany their young charges. This is the sixth year that East’s fifth-graders have gone on the trip, so many are anticipating especially eagerly because a sibling has had the experience.

Recently, the teachers received a welcome visit from members of the Breakfast Optimists Club of Littleton, which has taken a special interest in the school, where some students are still mastering English and many qualify for a free lunch. BOCL members combined a grant from Allstate Insurance, which member Tom Scavuzzo arranged, with proceeds from a bowling day and a donation from the club treasury for a total of $2,300 towards the Cal-Wood trip. Vander Velde said she was “surprised and so very thankful.”

“For many students, this will be their first trip away from home,” Vander Velde said. She and Moore have especially designed the program with Cal-Wood staff to meet their students’ needs. The organization works with one school at a time as they explore the learning center for an immersion experience in environmental education, which fits the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) objectives.

A typical day at Cal-Wood might include scheduled times for waking up, showering and packing for the day; breakfast and cleanup; Field Day, guided by Cal-Wood staff (lunch is carried along); “Body on Bunk” (reading journaling, sleeping); “Down Time, “supervised by school and parent support personnel; dinner and cleanup; evening program guided by Cal-Wood staff; getting ready for bed; and lights out. A detailed teachers guide spells out the program for teachers and support staff.

Team building is an important part of each day as well, and instructors are trained in “sheltered instruction,” Vander Velde said. “It’s a methodology for instruction that allows all students to develop academic vocabulary and deep understanding of concepts presented, even when they are learning English as a second language.” (This student body speaks many different languages at home.)

“One of the best parts is the first week back at school! The teachers and students know each other very well after spending time together for a week. And, they all miss the incredible food from Cal-Wood!” Vander Velde concludes.