Outdoor program to welcome more kids this spring

Outdoor program to welcome more sixth-graders this springs
OWL program photo from 2016

Grand Junction, CO Mesa County Valley School District 51’s Outdoor Wilderness Lab, better known as OWL, is expanding! After seven years of connecting a growing number of Bookcliff Middle School sixth-graders with science and team-building skills through hands-on lessons in the great outdoors, the innovative OWL program will be offered to sixth-graders from all District 51 middle schools starting in Spring 2020.

Letters went out to sixth-grade families on Tuesday, Oct. 1, encouraging interested students to pre-register for the expanded program. Pre-registration will help determine how many sections of OWL are needed. The cost to participate in OWL is $80 per student and includes meals, transportation, instruction, and lodging in canvas cottages. Scholarships will be available for low-income families. The pre-registration deadline is Friday, Oct. 25, and the deadline for full registration and payment is Jan. 20, 2020.

The current goal is to provide OWL in three-day sessions for up to 30 students per session between March 2 and May 20, 2020, at the program’s new facility near Gateway School in southwestern Mesa County. In past years, OWL has always relied on outside venues, including Camp Kiwanis and Camp Cedaredge, to host the program. Having a permanent facility just for OWL will allow the program to operate over the span of several weeks so more students can participate.

The OWL program began in 2012, when a group of Bookcliff Middle School teachers joined forces with CPW and took 36 Bookcliff sixth-graders on an overnight camping excursion. Growing interest in the program sparked the request for a permanent facility and staff. In 2019-20, the D51 School Board has promised $200,000 to help OWL with setup/construction costs and operational needs, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife is contributing $100,000 to the expansion effort.

The program will be larger and have a permanent facility from this year on, but the OWL curriculum will remain very similar, providing outdoor learning opportunities in a camp setting. Students will learn everything from wildlife biology and stream ecology to hunter safety and archery. OWL instructors and staff include D51 teachers and administrators, high school counselors from Central High School, nursing students from Colorado Mesa University, CPW officers, and several passionate volunteers from the community.

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