Science in nature’s classroom is the goal of Sierra Nevada Journeys, an educational organization filling a key niche for young students, Carson City Rotarians were told Tuesday.
They learned about the SNJ program, which includes affiliation with three Carson City elementary schools, as well as about 45 in grade schools in Washoe County and a total of 90 or more from Sacramento, Calif., on the west to Fallon on the east. Eaton Dunkelberger of Reno, a Marine Corps veteran and Stanford University graduate in biology, explained the goal and reasons for it during a luncheon speech.
“We really focus on teaching kids how to think and not what to think,” said Dunkelberger, doing that partly by bringing credentialed science teachers into classrooms and then offering students field trips into nature. He said Nevada has been ranked last by a “chances for success indicator,” and elementary schools now spend only about 90 minutes weekly on science.
“That needs to change,” he said. He talked with pride about the credentialed staff and the organization’s Grizzly Creek Ranch near Portola, Calif., north and west of Reno, calling the latter “really just a fantastic property.”
He said that place for summer camps, open since 2009, offers a natural setting to train youngsters aged 8-17, but also is used for conferences, corporate retreats and the like. The focus of the work with elementary schools, meanwhile, centers on children from grades two and three through five and six, Dunkelberger said,
He said 55 percent of those students come from low income families. He said cost for the program ranges from as low as $20 for some classroom work for low income students, up to $500 for summer camp at Grizzly Creek. He said the program has grown, including at the ranch, but there are still slots available for summer camp there.
Dunkelberger said the innovative, science-oriented approach hones in on STEM needs — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — and is particularly geared to such things as physical matter and its properties, habitat, earth science and geology, watershed issues, geo-special mapping and forest/pond ecology.
Regarding the elementary schools with which the organization works, Dunkelberger said, about 70 percent are in Nevada and 30 percent in California. The three in Carson City are Fremont, Mark Twain and Bordewich-Bray, but he said SNJ also has worked with others here and would like to expand its footprint among capital city grade schools.
He also said the program works closely with the Rotary Youth Leadership Academy.
After the talk Mayor Robert Crowell, a Rotarian, thanked Dunkelberger for his work and called it crucial to reach young people regarding the importance of STEM education and training.
“My hat’s off to you,” said the mayor.