On Friday, April 13 we hosted two dozen Taos educators at Rio Fernando Park to help us plan for Taos outdoor education opportunities. We are including an outdoor education component in our planning for the park from the get go. What kind of activities and classes do teachers want to do out here? How can we integrate activities here with the classroom? This was a listen and learn day for us.
Present were educators and students from UNM Taos, the high schools, middle schools, elementary school – teachers covering everything from statistics to second grade to engineering…. Landscape architect, Amy Bell, lead the focus groups.
We started by touring the 20-acre park then broke into focus groups.
As we thought, Taos teachers are looking for places to have accessible field trip locations for younger students and a site for project-based learning for older students. Think of it in age-based stages of learning. There is the “wonder and play” stage for the youngest learners, the “science and inquiry” stage for the middle ages and the “research stage” for high school kids and university students.
The teachers expressed a desire to do focused research projects by gathering real and relevant data for analysis for their students – much like the high school environmental students are doing. The educators are looking at subjects like ecosystem studies, climate change monitoring, conservation mentorships, hydrology, mapping, STEM and getting youth prepped for natural resource jobs. Agricultural demonstration projects, cooking skills and art and writing opportunities were also mentioned. The term “outdoor learning laboratory” came up multiple times.
Susie Fiore from FIT Taos said she would like to have a place for after school and summer educational programs for the kids who go to the FIT camps.
We also learned that we will need some infrastructure in order to create an outdoor learning laboratory. Things like bathrooms, potable water and bus access are obvious but the educators also mentioned having an amphitheatre in the park for gathering and for the younger children a sort of exploratory play area.
Water and agriculture came up again and again in the discussion – which makes sense given that this land used to be a farm and in our arid environment water is a key resouce under constant stress that impacts the environment in the entire region. Taos outdoor education programs at Rio Fernando Park could involve children’s gardens to help both teach kids how to grow their own food but also to serve as a tool to discuss the nexus of food and the environment. Once the acequia is restored we will have another water source on the property – one based on a traditional agricultural system. One of the educators on hand suggested a multi-tiered demonstration area to show how different types of irrigation systems impact both water use and plant growth potential.
As we know, all our schools suffer consistent funding challenges. Who pays for Taos outdoor education programs and for field trips to the site? All the schools and classroom teachers are strapped. Perhaps, a few suggested, the Taos Land Trust could lead a collaboration for teachers to develop a fun and sustainable science program that is run along New Mexico science education standards. To do this, we’ll need to engage the school district administration right up front. It is important that we serve an academic need and pinpoint where and how we can be most effective.