Outdoor education center opens

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A forested campground once considered a last chance for troubled boys is now the first chance for many Douglas County students to study in a classroom without walls.

The Douglas County School District celebrated the grand opening of its Douglas County Outdoor Education Center Aug. 27, and welcomed the first wave of students who will participate in the three-day program.

Summit View Elementary fifth- and sixth-graders will eat, sleep and explore at the 100-acre property south of Larkspur, testing their limits on a zip line and ropes course, studying rocks, water and the weather and all the while strengthening friendships. High school students also will participate as assistants to the teachers and staff.

Fifth- and sixth-graders throughout the district will have the opportunity to participate in the program. It is not part of the standard curriculum, and is offered at a per-student cost of $175. School officials hope the cost can come down as the program continues and the property begins to generate rental revenue with use by groups such as the Boy Scouts or companies seeking corporate retreats.

“I get the awesome responsibility of being principal,” said Denny Ingram, former principal of Rock Ridge Elementary. “The first time I took a step on this site, I went, ‘Wow, this has so much potential, for so many kids.’ We can create a legacy that will so outlast us.”

Center principal Denny Ingram and program coordinator David Ray spent most of their evening Aug. 26 writing the students’ names on their assigned bunk beds within the dorms. The dorm buildings, all with central living and kitchen areas, are tucked among the trees on the property, and can accommodate up to 80 children.

The outdoor education program isn’t new, but students previously had to travel to Estes Park or other mountain communities to participate in it.

The center uses a five-pronged approach to education, instruction students on the biosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere, geosphere and what it calls the sociosphere.

“That’s the team-building, social piece,” Ingram said.

Former Flagstone Elementary School teacher Chantel Astler is a program specialist at the center.

“We’ve been working so hard to get ready for this day,” she said. “This is amazing. It’s a perfect mix of curriculum, outdoors and sustainability.”

The curriculum is centered on the district’s new world-class education theme, which emphasizes critical thinking and other 21st-century skills designed to prepare students for the global marketplace.

The center is a partnership between the school district and Douglas County. For about 30 years, the property served as the Griffith Centers for Children, a therapeutic center for troubled boys that relocated to Colorado Springs in 2010. Douglas County bought the property in 2011 for $985,000, and plans to transfer the deed to the school district in September.

Expenditures as of June 30 for the Outdoor Education Center total $270,216.

More than 1,500 students are expected to visit the center during the 2012-13 school year.

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