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School Crossing

By Guy Nahmiach

How many of you still remember your experience at Outdoor Lab? It was probably the first time you were away from home for a week’s time. You met perfect strangers on a Monday and found yourself hugging them with tears, saying “goodbye” at the flagpole on Friday, hoping that somehow you’ll stay in touch with them when you each go back to your schools. You learned some real life lessons while hiking through miles of trails in the forest - how to read a map, how to spot planets in the sky - but mostly, you learned a lot about yourself: How much you could endure physically and mentally.

The Outdoor Labs are located at Windy Peak and Mount Evans. They are not camps, but actual schools with teachers, a principal and classes. Every sixth grader at Jeffco is invited to attend. And while most families pay for their students out of their pocket, our free and reduced families are supported by the Outdoor Lab Foundation, making sure that all students attend and experience Outdoor Lab week.

With sixth grade having moved over to middle school, it was Everitt Middle that represented Wheat Ridge this year: 189 students from Wheat Ridge attended Outdoor Lab this past fall, 93 of them were free and reduced meal students.

The cost of $18,000 to cover their participation was, of course, covered by the Outdoor Lab Foundation, but in turn, the City of Wheat Ridge generously donated that same amount  ($18,000) to the foundation.

No other city in Jeffco gives as much to cover their students’ experience at Outdoor Lab as Wheat Ridge does. This is not about a controversial economic project or a political stance. It’s about a mind and body shaping experience that our sixth grade students, who are on the edge of becoming young men and women, experience first hand. It’s about science-based education in a natural environment where words in textbook pages come to life before their very eyes and within their grasp.

As parents we can tell the difference between that child that lugged that giant duffel bag up the stairs of the school bus, eyes wide open from not knowing what the days ahead would bring and, perhaps, maybe even a hint of fear, many thinking that they would starve without their regular home cooked “special” meals. But we also remember these same students walking off the bus with a more mature look on their faces, fatigued but proud of what they’ve experienced during these last few days.

I did not go to Outdoor Lab. In fact, I didn’t fully understand its impact until I saw the effect it had on our sixth graders at Prospect Valley. until Heather Rutledge (sixth grade teacher) sat me down to watch a video she had put together promoting the program. I was then hooked and committed to supporting its existence when the Jeffco District considered eliminating it due to extreme budget deficits.

Hence, the Outdoor Lab Foundation worked hard to raise over a million dollars from private and corporate donors and fundraising events this year for the program, making sure that not only resources are available to both schools but that every student participates, no matter what their economic situation is at home. I now proudly sit on the board of the Outdoor Lab Foundation.

Are you an Outdoor Lab alumni? Did you endure the cold showers and early morning wake-up calls? Of course, we joke about that but mostly I hear about the amazing memories. Whether it’s from Connie at Apple Ridge Cafe who smiles from ear to ear when recounting her Outdoor Lab days to Mary at the King Soopers cash register that still hangs out with friends she made that week. After 61 years, it’s become a Jeffco tradition and is still going strong. The Foundation is actually looking to fill its Alumni Committee to help gather stories and pictures and share them with our schools and community. Please call or email me if you are interested. As always, thanks for reading.

Contact Guy Nahmiach at Guy@NostalgicHomes.com or 303-999-5789.