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Draper Journal

Channing Hall students learn to appreciate land, its history, geography near Moab

Dec 16, 2021 09:18AM ● By Julie Slama

Channing Hall eighth-graders Roopali Choudhary, Paige Frohman, Isabella Sorenson and Kassiana VanWagoner work to construct a waterway that can withstand a 100-year flood during their Canyonlands Field Institute experience. (Jeff Meyers/Channing Hall)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

When Channing Hall teachers and administrators decided two years ago to annually offer students the experience to attend Canyonlands Field Institute’s Professor Valley Field Camp, 20 miles northeast of Moab, they thought it would be a capstone opportunity for eighth-grade students. 

They didn’t count on, after having a successful first year, a pandemic interrupting the new tradition.

The trip returned this year following similar experiences, but also offering students some new activities and opportunities, said Channing Hall science teacher Jeff Meyers, after the group’s recent return.

One such activity was learning some mapping skills. The group was given a map of the Four Corners area and the students learned how to identify markings on it, then drew their own in the sand and used rocks to mark features of mountain ranges, water ways and cities.

“It gave them an idea of where they were and to interpret that; it was kind of a neat activity,” he said. 

One part of the lesson was learning about the region, for example, the Colorado River.

“We were right next to the Colorado River and it’s part of everything we talked about and how it is the center of life in the area, so we looked at how the different tributaries feed into the Colorado,” he said.

During the three-day trip, 24 classmates slept in Lakota-style tipis by night and explored the area by day, learning its geology and geography. Students also helped at the camp, either doing dishes, or pitching in with whatever was needed, such as removal of invasive plants.

Each day, students took part in activities, hikes and river rafting planned by the Canyonlands Field Institute.

“The first night, we had a sense of place, an activity to go out, and make a vow of silence until we are done, and silently hike to this area. We talked about the Native people in the area and read some of their poetry. It gave the students a chance to reflect and kind of live there,” Meyers said.

The next day, the group hiked to Pride Rock, where they continued the tradition of bringing up a rock from the ground to the top of the climb.

“It’s a way of saying you made it all the way up to the top,” he said. “We hiked all day, but it’s not a huge amount, like six or seven miles.”

That hike was intermixed with activities, such as creating a story and making a piece of art that reflected it.

“We were in a riverbed, just using whatever materials they had to make it. They were in different groups and they looked at each groups’ work to interpret it, not knowing what it was actually about,” he said. “It was tied into what we were doing because the next thing we did was to see petroglyphs and we learned we can guess all we want, but we really have no idea what their meaning was.”

The group also examined different artifacts, such as arrowheads and hammerstones they found in the area, Meyers said.

The second night, students took part in a mock town hall meeting where they were assigned roles. The scenario was what to do with the acquisition of the land in the area. One group wanted to build a resort there that focused on sustainability, but still allowed visitors. Another group represented others living in the area, from animals to business owners, and had to try to determine their viewpoints of development or keeping it the same.

While the resort won in this scenario, Meyers said a “good half of the students” said they didn’t vote the way they individually would have if they weren’t playing a certain character. 

The activities ended with river rafting where they learned more about the geography and “what causes the river to flow in different ways. We also learned about the recent flooding event that happened with Professor Creek and how it pushed a whole bunch of rocks into the Colorado, so the rapids are a bit different than they used to be,” he said.

At lunch, along the river, the students designed a waterway that flowed to an area where people lived so they tried to engineer it so it would withstand a 100-year flood. 

While the group in 2019 saw lots of wildlife, but had to endure cold temperatures, this year’s group had milder weather and ended with bus issues as it overheated as they were to depart home. During downtimes, they played games, such as Rocky Handy, and tossed around a water polo ball a student brought. Cell phones were not allowed.

Meyers said he picked the focuses of the experience because they aligned with Channing Hall’s international baccalaureate program.

“We talked about the sense of place, quiet contemplation and reflection and those are focuses in our IB school. With IB, we learn and understand how we fit in, where we are and how our actions impact locally and globally,” he said. “So rather than just learning about the science of the area, we’re giving them an understanding of how science works in real life; where it is, what’s going on and how it impacts life.”