Middle school students study environmental science as part of the SEED Summer Experience | educatIon

High school students from Flagstaff, Grand Canyon and Pine-Strawberry will spend a week at Camp Colton in July sharpening their science skills by participating in the STEM Environmental Enrichment and Discovery (SEED) Camp Summer Experience that gives them children a chance to participate in hands-on environmental research.

It is the second year that Camp Colton has offered its summer SEED experience. Developed by the nonprofit Friends of Camp Colton — which runs the camp along with the Flagstaff Unified School District — the program gives students a chance to explore science in a way they might not get to otherwise.

Sneha Vissa (purple) teaches campers at Camp Colton on Tuesday about Aspen Trees. Vissa is an entomologist and is one of the experts who comes to camp to help educate the campers.

Wes Salonen, Arizona Daily Sun

Most of the campers are rising seventh- and eighth-graders who were nominated for scholarships by their teachers based on their financial need and interest in science. About 80 campers are participating this year over the two weeklong sessions (42 this week and 39 next week), which Wilder said was more than double last year’s total.

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Most of the kids in the SEED Summer Experience have spent time at Camp Colton with their school in sixth grade, so the goal is to build on previous experiences.

“The real focus of Camp Colton is outdoor environmental education,” said Ari Wilder, executive director of the Friends of Camp Colton. “… We really wanted to give kids an authentic science experience in the field and this is what it is.”

Students are divided into groups focusing on one of four research topics related to climate change: soil ecology, hydrology, native organisms, and fire ecology. Community experts, local teachers, and camp educators then guide them in choosing a research question and conducting a project to investigate it during the week.

Camp Colton 2022

Nancy Johnson, an area professor at Northern Arizona University, teaches a group of campers about soil ecology on an overcast Tuesday at Camp Colton.

Wes Salonen, Arizona Daily Sun

On a recent Tuesday afternoon, the campers were busy developing questions that would guide their research for the rest of the program. They studied maps labeled with the contours of historic fires, various water sources, trails and camp locations as they discussed the best ways to answer their question.

“We give teachers time to teach them a little so they know what tools are available and what professionals can do,” said program coordinator Jackson Carranco. “ … This group might be facing three different questions that they want to study potentially, and they’re just trying to figure out which one might work best—where do we go if we’re going to do that, what’s your experience been as an expert… then they go out and do it.”

The hydrology group discussion was led by Northland Preparatory Academy science teacher Kayla Arendt, camp support staff Jayden Hagerman, and community experts Danielle Urich and Hannah Chambless.

On Tuesday, the group was identifying tanks in the area that they could use to study the fire’s effects on water sources. They had compiled a list of seven in the ponderosa pine biome that they could sample and make comparisons.

“We’re trying to figure out where we want to go, like the places … and we’re trying to figure out where the water would go if it fell on these fire scars,” said eighth grader MJ Jeffers.

Eighth-grader Wyatt Reichman said the group was looking at “tanks with fire scars versus tanks without fire scars, and we’re collecting water samples.”

“We don’t want to go to many places, otherwise … we will get a little data from each one. I don’t know if it’s just me, but I prefer to get a lot of data from one instead of scattered all over the place,” added Jeffers.

Camp Colton 2022

Kali, a camper at Camp Colton, studies the changes in the aspen trees on Tuesday. Kali and other campers were part of a group called Native Organisms and were learning how to spot discrepancies between trees.

Wes Salonen, Arizona Daily Sun

Since the program is an overnight camp, students also participate in more traditional camp activities such as archery, tie dyeing, and ice cream making. Local experts also visit to present topics such as astronomy or local animals.

At the end of the week (camp runs from Sunday evening to Friday afternoon), campers will host an open house for their families, where they will share what they have done during their research. This will be the first time the camp will hold this event, as last year’s program was “deep in COVID” and the projects were shown in a video instead.

“The finished project is hopefully kind of a synthesis of what they’ve been doing over the week — what they’ve learned about their question and how it relates to other projects and how it relates to climate change.” Wilder said.

Major funders for Camp Colton and this program include the Arizona Community Foundation of Flagstaff, the Geo Family Foundation and the APS Foundation as well as a number of individual donors.

The SEED Summer Experience is also a professional development opportunity for the science teachers involved.

“Our goal is for the science teachers to learn alongside the students, and hopefully some of the things they learn at Camp Colton and through this project, they will bring back to the classroom next year,” Wilder said.

More about Camp Colton can be found at friendsofcampcolton.org.

Camp Colton 2022

Isaac, a camper at Camp Colton, poses while learning about earth ecology Tuesday afternoon.

Wes Salonen, Arizona Daily Sun

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