I am writing to ask that your organization join in a partnership of some kind to support the Great Basin Institute’s (GBI) burgeoning educational programs at Galena Creek.  I realize that Patagonina’s grant programs only hesitantly fund educational programs, the preference being for projects that are more directly related to outdoor recreation.  Our work, however, is about learning by discovery and the activities we sponsor bring people into the Galena Creek Recreation Area to learn of the place, the things that live here, and of the opportunities it offers for enjoying the outdoors.  The park in which we are located is a half-hour drive from Reno’s city center and draws many visitors from the urban area.  Hundreds of children and young adults from regional school schools are bussed to the park for our naturalist programs, many of whom have never before visited a place of wilderness such as this.  

We are located at the Galena Creek Visitors Center in Galena Creek Park on Forest Service land at the base of Mt. Rose on the scenic byway that runs from Reno to Lake Tahoe.  We have full access to all park facilities including the WeChMe residential facility, a twelve-room lodge we use for overnight and week-long summer camp programs. GBI operates the Center under a long-term contract with the Washoe County Parks Department.  Galena Creek Park provides GBI with a stellar outdoor resource for involving program participants in a wide variety of outdoor learning activities that are structured to teach environmental awareness by introducing program participants to the Galena Creek ecosystem, its multitudinous biological niches—terrain in the park ranges from high desert to alpine forest—while building appreciation and understanding of the science and humanities disciplines that help one to gather and analyze information to better understand the meaning of what they are able to observe through their own senses.

The Great Basin Institute itself is a valuable resource for the educational programs we now operate and are seeking help to expand and enhance. GBI is involved in numerous grant funded ecological maintenance programs for a wide-range of government and non-government agencies and employs hundreds of people with expertise in the environmental sciences who are engaged on a daily basis in field-based research and projects in which research is applied for the sake of environmental preservation and enhancement.  These individuals holding a wide range of degrees in the science and humanities disciplines provide programs with an expertise base of magnitude and educational programs employ the services of these people for consultation and teaching. GBI is also involved in various capacities with faculty from the University of Nevada, Reno and Sierra Nevada College and operates an office in the Applied Research Building on the University of Nevada, Reno campus.  

GBI, each year, employs several Americorps volunteers who work in the educational programs as naturalist teachers and coordinators and counselors for the summer camp and school visitation programs.  Most of these volunteers are either students in or recent graduates form university programs, mostly in the science disciplines but, some too from the humanities fields. The Nevada Conservation Corps (NCC), also run by GBI, is an Americorp program that, according to the GBI webpage “harnesses the energy and idealism of youth to meet the needs of Nevada public lands and communities.”  We plan to involve NCC participant more in our general other education programs to benefit themselves and those with whom they share their experiences.

The Galena Creek Visitors Center is another important resource for GBI educational programs, serving now as an indoor venue for camps and school visitation programs and as an information source for visitors to the park. The center contains display cases and exhibits explaining aspects of the natural history of the area.  The Center hosts speakers on a variety of nature related topics and offers programs such as “toddler time” and guided hikes for adults as well as naturalist lessons for home schooled students.

Why We are Seeking Partnership

We believe that with the resources we already have at hand we can build a learning center that is unique for its setting and for the expertise of those who are employed by GBI.  The project now employs Stephen Lafer, an emeritus professor from the College of Education at the University of Nevada, Reno who has written books and articles on interdisciplinary, problem-solving based experiential education and directed several programs employing methods described here including a long running teacher institute, The Truckee River Project.  He is author of the book, The Interdisciplinary Teacher’s Handbook,written with Stephen Tchudi.  This project is, then, one of several attempts to move along the development of programs such as those described with methods already tested and showing to generate both enthusiasm for learning and, for this, learning that is meaningful and understandings deep.  Our goal is to provide both students and teachers experiences that produce the kind of thinking that causes a being to want to learn and to learn effectively by employing thinking that produces deep and meaningful understandings. Engagement in powerful lifelong learning is our ultimate goal for those who participate in our programs.  Such is necessary to guide effective decision making in one’s personal life and one’s life as a citizen of a democratic society.

We are looking for partners to work with us to improve the quality of our programs so that they are highly effective in accomplishing what we understand to be goals critical to the health of the environment, goals that cannot be achieved and sustained without a public that is highly aware of the value of things natural and able to understand well the issues are and will be debated in the public forum concerning sensible use of natural resources and the development of sound resource management policy.  We need to make our citizenry familiar with wilderness places such as the Galena Creek area so that their experiences with nature lead to appreciation of nature, its complexity, and its vulnerability.  

At this point in time, we believe that such goals cannot yetbe achieved in the standard school setting, that what we can provide is instruction that is both powerful for students and that serves to show teachers both what can be done and how to do it within the constraints of the school system and through advocacy for the loosening of constraints so that teachers can exercise their own intelligence and creativity to build effective new programs while demonstrating for their students how intelligent and creative people go about thinking about the world and work to change it for the better.

To better serve such purposes we need help in accomplishing the following ends:

  1. Revise and revitalize the camp and school visitation programs;
  2. Develop and implement institutes for teachers that engage them in experiential activities so that they are encouraged to make use of experiential, problem-solving based instructional methods in their classrooms and work to bring about changes needed in the school system that will allow them to do so;
  3. Remodel and update Visitor Center displays and improve our public outreach programs.

Revise and Revitalize the Camp and School Visitation Programs

Present:  The Great Basin Institute currently operates the Great Basin Naturalist at Galena summer camp programs for young people ages 8-17.  The program offers week long day and residential camps during which participants work with GBI naturalists to explore various facets of the Galena Creek forest.  Residential campers are housed in the WeChMe Lodge, a residential facility on the Galena Creek Park property.  Science education is emphasized with campers hiking the woods to learn about forest environment and ecology.   Information on the camping program for 2019 is available here. GBI also runs a school visitation program during the school year.  Teachers are invited to bring students to the Center for a day of Galena Creek science activities.  There is also a program for those involved in home schooling and another for pre-school children.

Needs:  Currently, personnel for the summer camps are mostly seasonal Americorps volunteers who, because of their temporary and relatively short-term employment status make program continuity and development difficult, each group spending approximately six months on site and then leaving before a new group arrives. At the heart of our teaching methodology is understanding of the richness of rigorous study to discover answer to questions that one finds to be personally meaningful.  For instructors, this is achieved through engagement in just such learning activities and the development of instructional strategies built with such goals for students in mind.  We are as interested in learning process as well as what is learned. Too few teachers engage in such work as curriculum is usually mandated and textbooks serve as the primary source of information.  Teachers are transmitters of information rather than participants in rigorously rich learning situations.  We need to set up the conditions necessary for our instructors to become reflective and responsive teachers who at all times are conscious of student thinking and capable of using what is there, before students in the environment to further that thinking, grow thinking ability and the desire to think deeply.  

To do this, we want to be able to fund at least three full-time permanent year-round naturalist instructors to plan, manage, and teach in our camp and school visitation programs.  We will continue to employ Americorps volunteers and other volunteers to work in the program, these individuals inducted into our methodologies by proximity to our permanent faculty, taught by example.  We also need funding to pay for the services of people working in, with knowledge of the various types of work done that contribute to understanding of and proper treatment of wildlands.  In addition, funds will be used to purchase equipment needed for our camp and visitation programs.

We also need funds to pay fees for campers whose financial circumstances would otherwise prevent them from participating in the camp programs. 

Teacher Education Program

Present:  We are currently developing teacher institutes intended to infect teachers with experiential, problem-solving based instructional methods, our purpose being to cause them to incorporate into their classrooms the excitement generating kinds of lessons they experience with us.  Our first teacher institute is scheduled for October of 2019 and will involve teachers in activities for the restoration of Galena Creek.  Experts from the various disciplines involved in stream restoration will teach to the science of streams and the technical applications of science and other disciplines to improve the condition of the creek.  

Needs: The teacher institutes will be run through the University of Nevada, Reno Extended Studies office so that participants can receive either university or school district in-service credits.  We require funding to pay for stipends for teachers to cover instituted expenses such as credit, materials, and other expenses incurred for attending.  We also require funds for stipends for the experts who will be working with teachers.

Galena Creek Visitors Center

Present:  The Galena Creek Visitors Center building serves as an information resource for people visiting the Galena Creek area and for those travelling the Mt. Rose scenic byway on their way to Lake Tahoe.  Hundreds pass through the center each week and others visit to attend weekly talks offered by experts with knowledge of the setting and the sciences and humanities disciplines that are important to understanding this place.  Presently the Center offers displays that attempt to inform the public about the area.  

Needs:  We propose to reconfigure the Center so that it works better to inform visitors and, too, the various groups of students—campers and school visitors—who come through the Center with the use of programmable and updatable interactive electronic displays.  We will make use of the work of teachers and students in the development of display materials and use the displays to show off their work.  

In accordance with the goal of making the Center a more powerful learning experience, we will acquire a stream table that will allow Center users to study in a hands-on fashion important aspects of stream dynamics.  We also require funding to erect a yurt structure on the property to use as a learning center.  Presently, Center space is very limited, our weekly naturalist presentations often drawing crowds exceeding our current capacity.  Because of weather conditions at out altitude we sometimes need to conduct school visitation sessions indoors and need additional space to do this comfortably.  The yurt will also serve as an instructional laboratory for use by students and teachers to gather in groups and to conduct learning activities using modern technology. 

Components Integrated and Interactive

We envision programs that are integrated—overlap–and are interactive. The Center will serve as a learning hub serving our educational programs and the public.  Center displays will be developed by participants in our camp and visitation programs and teacher participants in our teacher institutes. Displays will be regularly updated to reflect work done for and in our educational programs and work done will also made available to teachers and the public through our web-services.  We will regularly post information generated by projects such as the Galena Creek restoration project so that teachers can use the information in classroom activities.  In turn, information generated during such classroom activities will be made available online for use by others engaged in work for which it would be useful.  Teachers from the teacher institutes will have opportunities to observe camp activities and will be invited to contribute to instruction in those programs.  We intend to create a comprehensive hub for learning for those involved in education and for the general public.

Our Request

While the description of needs above is purely financial, our hope is to find partner organizations that can become involved in our programs by sharing expertise and helping to develop mutually beneficial relationships that lead to friendship as well as partnership.  There are people who work for organizations we are contacting who have important ideas to share through our programs.  For example, outdoor equipment companies engage technologies and employs science in ways that can be made interesting to our campers and students by showing them the relationship of that technology to purposes related in interesting ways to the natural world.  How many really know, for example, that the clothing is the result of a very sophisticated research, design, and engineering process based on understanding of natural conditions in the outdoors?  We are interested in helping our students understand how thoughtful people think and how that thinking leads to what should be understood to be amazing results.  Integrating into our programs thinking as it is done by those who apply science to achieve understandably practical ends will help our young people understand how the difficult is made plausible, the plausible possible, and the possible real.  That would be one hell of a good lesson!

Please give our partnership request some thought.  The level of participation is up to you and however much you can help will be greatly appreciated.  Our hope is for projects of mutual benefit and we look forward to the discussions that will produce the good ideas upon which those projects will be based.

Published by lafered

Retired professor of education concerned with thoughtfulness

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