ACES deals students a winning hand
By Arin Trook
As the new education director at Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, I have the privilege of working with 5,000 students from 45 schools in the area. In my first few months here, I have learned so much from these students as we built watershed models with students at Crystal River Elementary School, turned over rocks in the Roaring Fork River to test macro-invertebrate diversity, dug potatoes and collected organic eggs at Rock Bottom Ranch, and tracked snowshoe hare across Richmond Ridge on Aspen Mountain. The youth of this valley understand more about watershed and ecosystem health, biodiversity, and sustainable food than most adults I have worked with.
These are the skills and experiences that will be critical in finding solutions to the unfolding social and environmental issues of the 21st century. Knowing where our food, water and electricity come from, understanding the resources and services provided by our local forests, and having a personal connection to the local landscape are, I believe, as important as any other school subject. We have full-time ACES educators teaching at Crystal River, Basalt, and Aspen elementary schools weaving state and national science standards into experiential, interdisciplinary classes and lessons in and out of the public school setting.
Current research supports the value of experiential environmental science education. The National Environmental Education Foundation reports schools with environmental education programs score higher on tests in reading, writing, math, science, and social studies. The World Economic Forum ranks the United States 48th out of 144 developed countries in quality of science education. Meanwhile, environmental science jobs are expected to grow 25 percent by 2016. The critical time for cultivating science literacy in our community is now.
The children of the Roaring Fork Valley give me hope for the future. As a recent transplant to the area, I want to send out my appreciation to the youth of this valley. My previous work and wanderings have allowed my family to travel and live around the world, from the temples of south India, to homesteading in Yosemite, and to teaching English in the Sahara Desert. I have journeyed far and wide, and yet nowhere in all my teaching and travels have I encountered a more ecologically literate, outdoor-oriented community of children and young adults.
I know that ACES Ed has been a key piece in cultivating this level of ecological literacy of our local children and feel proud to be a part of this organization. And yet, I also know that without the continued support of parents, teachers, other educational non-profits and the community at-large, our work would fall short of its full potential. I feel fortunate to be a part of this vibrant and ecologically informed community.
Arin Trook is the education director at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies (ACES). ACES works with nearly 5,000 students each year, from pre-school to high school. In addition to teaching 350 field programs each year, ACES also runs three science classrooms in the public elementary schools of Carbondale, Basalt and Aspen.