Grant money, volunteers contribute to Luther outdoor education

With help from grant funds and community support, Luther students not only had the opportunity to enjoy winter time recreation this year-- snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, but they also learned about winter ecology and survival skills. Written on behalf of the Luther PTA, the Red Lodge Community Foundation’s Area (RLACF) grant provided funds to rent snowshoe and cross-country equipment from Sylvan Peak. “The goal of the grant was multifold. We wanted to help introduce and remind kids of the recreational opportunities here in their backyard and the importance of pride in their environment. By integrating physical education with outdoor education, the kids are being active while also learning winter ecology,” said parent, volunteer and grant writer, Kerri Wolfson.

The students then spent Friday, Feb. 28 at the Red Lodge Nordic Center, where volunteers, Mary Ellen Mangus and Fred Hynek provided cross-country lessons to K-8 Luther students and staff, played games and taught students about the seasonal landscape. “It was really fun. The kids had a great time. Some had never cross-country skied before and some were more experienced. They were skill building and learning along the way,” Wolfson said. Next on the activity block was snowshoeing. On March 7, Wolfson took the K-4 students through Forest Service land in Luther to teach basic skills and further expose students to their unique environment. The older students, grades 5-8, had more of a challenge. With parent, rancher and school board member, Scott Heimer, the students hiked close to two miles. At the location, Heimer re-introduced subjects some students had previously learned on their Yellowstone Expedition trip, taught survival skills and open-endedly discussed the ecosystem.

“I really enjoyed the day with the kids. It gave me an opportunity to introduce them to their ‘back yard’ and allowed them to see and feel the subject matter they have already studied in the classroom. We discussed what animals used the ecosystem, what forces changed the ecosystem and the impact of our actions upon it as well.” Furthering the educational and real-life application component, Heimer encouraged them to think for themselves. “I didn't really tell them the answers, I just offered up some questions for them to ponder and mull over. I told them to find the answer out for themselves, but cautioned them to use an open mind... not just read from the internet or listen to a biased individual.” Survival training was their next challenge. After a long hike and a need to heat up hot dogs (because cold dogs are never satisfying), the students worked together to successfully build a fire in three-plus feet deep snow. “The kids did great! We got four or five fires going so everyone could roast a hot dog or two. That offered us a great opportunity to visit about ethics that should be observed while in our forests.”

The students were reminded to leave no trace, extinguish fires and other vital forest ethics, Heimer explained. “We want them to become stewards and learn an appreciation for the outdoors,” Wolfson noted. With wilderness education at Luther School an important factor in its curriculum (they offer archery, fly-fishing courses and ski days), the goal is to continue to expand on more winter programs. “We had our two days and we are hoping to continue to build into the curriculum more opportunities to get kids outdoors. It’s customary for our kids to go up to [Red Lodge] Mountain, this is just an effort to broaden the activities available,” Wolfson said. Heimer agreed, “I would like to continue [and] expand this program. It made most all of their subjects in the classroom come to life. For instance, geology is much easier to understand when you are holding the rock and can see where it fell from.” As winter slowly comes to an end, on behalf of Luther Schools, a big thank you to, RLACF, Luther PTA/ school board and the volunteers who helped support the students on their winter endeavors (because we all know from this winter, such activities are increasingly important for many reasons).