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Thursday, July 27, 2017

State grant helps kids connect with nature

State grant helps kids connect with nature

Nature. Kids. Kids. Nature.  Connecting the two in south Westminster hasn’t always been easy.  However, thanks to a planning grant of $70,000 from Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO), Open Space Specialist Kristen May and other Parks and Open Space staff have been working hard to connect kids and families with nature.

“Thanks to the grant, we created a plan called Promoting the Outdoors through Wellness, Education, and Recreation (POWER)/Promoviendo Oportunidades de Education Recreativas (PODER),” said May. “We worked with a parent advisory council, the Butterfly Pavilion, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Growing Home, and other organizations to connect kids in south Westminster with nature.”

The coalition created a plan to achieve its goals via PROGRAMS, PATHWAYS, and PLACES. Through community outreach and after school programs, staff created nature PROGRAMS for kids of all ages and their families. Community outreach was also done to plan career PATHWAYS for older youth as they look for their first jobs in the outdoor industry and safe PLACES in the England Park corridor for families to engage with nature together.

City staff worked with community leaders to reach out to families in this community and overcome barriers. To increase POWER/PODER’s possibility for success, they made participation in the program free, provided transportation, and offered bilingual services. In addition, community members were hired through Growing Home to help lead the programs and provide cultural relevancy to the events offered.

Pilot programming started in January with Tennyson-Knolls elementary school and Scott Carpenter middle school students. Approximately a dozen students from each school were able to participate.

Tennyson-Knolls students learned about animals, starting small at the Butterfly Pavilion. They progressed to “backyard nature” and ended their journey at the Anderson Farm in Erie.

Scott Carpenter middle schoolers learned about paddling, getting a chance to sit in kayaks and stand on paddleboards in a classroom setting first.  They then progressed to paddling in a Swim and Fitness Center pool before finally trying out their skills at Standley Lake. Students also learned about Standley Lake as an important ecosystem and water source for their larger community.

“The program was quite the success as the kids’ minds were opened to nature, playing outside, and, hopefully, becoming future stewards of the land,” said May.

However, the program is just getting started. The $70,000 grant was actually seed money to see how the city does in anticipation of a $3 million GOCO grant that staff are applying for.  This grant would allow for additional programming, career opportunities for students and new park amenities.

Approximately $2 million would be slated for PLACES (capital improvements) within the England Park corridor, including a greenhouse expansion, playground near the Bowles House and a garden expansion north of 72nd Avenue. Approximately $1 million would go towards PROGRAMS and PATHWAYS segments, including school nature programming, internships with PR&L and other nature-based organizations, and access to an outdoor gear library for families to explore nature together.

“The application was due at the end of July and the GOCO board will make their decision in December, so we worked hard to submit the best application for the grant,” said May.


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