Sambu Shrestha, center, a Sunset Elementary School fifth-grader, examines his find Thursday afternoon at Yampa River State Park. He and other Sunset and East elementary school fifth-graders panned for gold on the Yampa River, one of several activities offered during a two-day science camp Thursday and Friday designed to teach students hands-on lessons about nature and the environment.

Photo by Bridget Manley

Sambu Shrestha, center, a Sunset Elementary School fifth-grader, examines his find Thursday afternoon at Yampa River State Park. He and other Sunset and East elementary school fifth-graders panned for gold on the Yampa River, one of several activities offered during a two-day science camp Thursday and Friday designed to teach students hands-on lessons about nature and the environment.

Moffat County 5th-graders take part in science camp at Yampa River State Park

At a Glance …

• Sunset and East elementary school fifth-graders participated Thursday and Friday in science camp at Yampa River State Park.

• Students learned about geology, habitats, plants, forest fires, pine beetles and other topics.

• Camp designed to teach students hands-on lessons about science and nature, teachers said.

Sambu Shrestha didn’t know if it was gold or pyrite he found on the banks of the Yampa River on Thursday afternoon.

But, in any case, he didn’t seem to care much.

“Shiny, shiny, shiny,” he yelled, rejoicing over his find.

If Sambu were really panning for something precious, the difference between the two minerals would matter. One is the coveted precious metal; its lookalike is, by comparison, worthless.

But, he and other Sunset and East elementary school fifth-graders weren’t at Yampa River State Park to strike it rich. They were learning about science and the environment first-hand during a two-day science camp.

And that, Christy Parrott believes, is valuable.

It’s important for children to be outside “just to enjoy the country that we have, to respect it, to keep it the way it is,” said Parrott, East Elementary School library technician. “We have a remarkable history here, and they’re the ones that have got to keep it going.”

The camp project lay dormant for two years after the former organizer, Deb Frazier, retired. Parrott spearheaded the project this year and has been working on it since March.

Students dug into an array of subjects, including geology, habitats, plants, forest fires and the pine beetle epidemic.

They also camped at the park Thursday night, accompanied by teachers and parent volunteers.

“I really feel they learn better out here,” Parrott said. “They’re more relaxed, they’re excited, they’re more, I think, involved because it’s something completely new — it’s a new environment.”

When lessons resumed Friday morning, Denver Bowersox, 10, an East Elementary School fifth-grader, got to see for herself what the Yampa could reveal.

“I’m panning for gold,” she said matter-of-factly as she crouched on the bank, sloshing rich river silt around in her shallow pan.

Denver had already gotten lucky that morning. She’d found a small piece of gold, she said, and she knew it was gold because it was heavy.

Doing an activity like this, where students separate materials by weight, may be more powerful than simply learning about it in a textbook, said Jennifer Maiolo, a Bureau of Land Management mining engineer who guided the gold-panning lesson.

“Actually just doing that rather than having somebody tell you … it maybe sticks with you better,” she said.

The gold panning session stuck with Molly Neton, 10, from Sunset Elementary. The most interesting tidbit she learned, she said, was that a tiny ounce of gold was worth $19,000.

Or, maybe it was $1,900.

In any case, Molly agreed, it was worth a lot.

In addition to planned lessons, students learned a few things from nature itself.

On Friday morning, one student made a beeline for the grass near the schools’ campsite. A fuzzy black and red caterpillar rested on his outstretched arm, and he was on a mission to put it back where it belonged.

Chance encounters like these are part of the science camp’s ultimate goal.

The experience, Parrott said, “is just to give them a love of nature maybe they didn’t know they had.”

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