Star trekkers

Students learn about science from the best teacher—the earth itselfClasses, Programs and EventsGreat Basin Outdoor School

photo by ashley hennefer

It’s no secret children are excited about learning when they get to explore nature with all of their senses, and few would turn down the opportunity to discuss astronomy under the stars, or identify plants by touch and smell while hiking in the forest. The Great Basin Outdoor School (GBOS) and the Galena Creek Visitor Center (GCVC) have teamed up to offer a variety of classes, field trips, workshops and camp-outs to help kids find a passion for science and the environment.

Sue Jacox, president and founder of the Great Basin Outdoor School, says that almost all of the students who attend their programs develop an interest in science. The overnight campouts are especially popular, and the students form a close bond with the outdoors, and with their classmates.

“We really see an amazing impact on students when they stay overnight,” she says. “We really are partial to the longer experiences because of how much the students get from it. But we also have some day programs to accommodate budgets.”

The focus of GBOS’s education program is to demonstrate the many layers of winter ecology—not just the snow, but what causes it, what composes it and how it impacts humans and wildlife. Jacox hopes that when students are educated about ecologies, they will grow up wanting to protect them, and will seek out a sustainable lifestyle in harmony with the environment. The curriculum is fairly rigorous, and students are immersed in the process of research by conducting experiments, consulting experts and sharing their findings with one another.

“We do several overnight, multiday science classes,” Jacox says. “Winter safety skits, snow science experiments, winter plant and animal adaptation activities, and snowshoeing are fun, active and educational ways for kids to connect with our great Nevada outdoors in winter. It gives the students a chance to immerse themselves.”

GBOS partners with Galena Creek Visitor Center to host some of their programs. GCVC is surrounded on three sides by the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, a large landscape that gives kids a chance to explore.

“At the juncture of two ecosystems, high desert and alpine, the location provides the ideal backdrop for environmental education in both desert and mountain habitats,” says Kimberly Carsten, special events coordinator of the GCVC. “Our programs are developed with all ages in mind, from the littlest explorers to the most experienced naturalists.”

The Galena Creek Visitor Center is a subset of the Great Basin Institute, an organization that promotes environmental literacy efforts throughtout the region. GBI has a similar mission to the Snowlands Network, another regional organization that helps to organize and host programs, and encourages “human-powered” recreation to increase an awareness and appreciation for the wildlands.

Carsten says that learning in the environment has positive benefits for adults and children.

“Research indicates that experiencing the outdoors has the potential to bring about a multitude of benefits for people of all ages, cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds,” she says. “Outdoor-related education and recreation can positively affect physical and social development, emotional health and well-being for a lifetime.”

The GCVC Great Basin Naturalists Field Studies program offers natural history courses for students in kindergarten to twelfth grade. Students receive a naturalist certificate after completing the program. They also offer programs for kids as young as 2 years old.

GCVC and GBOS partnered to organize Snow School, a program for students in fourth through eighth grade with a focus on winter safety and ecology. Students spend part of the day learning about the science of the snow, and then strap on snowshoes to trek around the forest. The mix of mental and physical stimulation keeps students engaged in learning, according to Jacox.

Carsten agrees, and hopes that families and individuals make use of the many trails, picnic areas, and wildlands available to the community.

“Outdoor recreation and education opportunities also have demonstrated positive impacts on our community as a whole,” she says. “Our goal is to promote a lifelong pursuit of knowledge and outdoor adventure.”

Programs run from mid-January to mid-February. Most activities are day programs, but a group weekend will be held Jan. 27-29. Topics of programs include:

Snow science

Forest and wildlife ecology


Winter safety

Environmental awareness

Respect and cooperation

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