Into the Colorado wild
Xcel Energy Foundation grant recipient provides youth with outdoor educational experiences
Last year, the Xcel Energy Foundation contributed more than $3.4 million in grants to support the company’s primary focus areas of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education; economic sustainability; environmental stewardship; and access to arts and culture. This is one in a series of stories to highlight our grant partners and the impact they have in our communities.
When students visit Cal-Wood in Jamestown, Colorado, they experience a complete transformation. From the moment they step off the school bus into the 1,200-acre outdoor classroom, surrounded by forests, mountains and lakes, to the time they return to their normal school activities, they become different people.
“The knowledge they’ve gained after just three days at Cal-Wood is impressive,” says Jared Mazurek, School Program Director. “They are more knowledgeable, their curiosity is piqued, and they want to investigate more.”
During their first and final day at Cal-Wood, students are evaluated. For example, on day one, Cal-Wood instructors may ask the kids what they think fires do. A typical elementary response is “Fires burn down trees and hurt animals.”
However, after a few days studying fire ecology and participating in hands-on science activities, students can more maturely express how fires can destroy habitats but also benefit our ecosystems.
These kids are learning more than a new vocabulary. They are gaining team-building and social skills. Their physical abilities are tested, their fears are exposed, and their phones are taken away. But at the end of the program, they’ve developed a newfound respect for nature, science and each other.
“It’s more than a field trip,” says Rafael Salgado, Cal-Wood’s executive director since 1999. “It’s an experience. Sleeping here, eating together. It’s not like a trip to the museum. We take them off-trail, we explore the land, we find bones.”
For nearly a decade, Cal-Wood has been a grant partner of Xcel Energy. The organization uses grant funds to provide scholarships to low-income students in 15 school districts, including Boulder, Aurora, St. Vrain Valley and Mapleton.
Last year, Cal-Wood hosted 80 schools and 5,000 kids, half of which were low-income, and awarded $90,000 in scholarships. The three-day, two-night Science-Based Environmental Education Program costs $160 per student, which covers housing, meals, insurance and the curriculum.
From collecting water and insect specimens to studying snow science to observing the constellations, each program is unique and supports the needs and abilities of the students.
Cal-Wood has also developed a leading English as a Second Language program to help students overcome barriers. Most of the low-income students that visit Cal-Wood require a bilingual program, so to ensure students feel confident and included, instructors create visuals that give them an opportunity to participate.
Kent McClannan, a Whittier Elementary School teacher who has brought his fifth-grade students to Cal-Wood for nearly 10 years, says the program is a rite of passage at Whittier, one students look forward to for years. They talk about future careers, discover new and fun ways to learn and make new friends.
“They can’t imagine not starting the year without Cal-Wood,” McClannan exclaims, his hands excitedly waving in the air. “We make connection with these kiddos that we couldn’t make in the classroom. We help them overcome challenges and make lessons come alive. It’s life-changing for them.”
Due to its growth and outreach efforts, Cal-Wood added a new building to its campus two years ago and increased its bed count from 80 to 116. Next year, they hope to expand the dining hall to accommodate more students.
“Cal-Wood is more than academics,” says Salgado. “It’s about personal growth, taking challenges, failing and learning.”
Xcel Energy Foundation Focus Grants
The future of the communities we serve depends on the educational programs and systems that produce the next generation of STEM leaders and a skilled workforce for tomorrow. In 2018, the Xcel Energy Foundation invested $1.34 million into organizations that support STEM education, including Cal-Wood.
The Xcel Foundation is a 501(c)(3) organization that awards charitable grants to nonprofit organizations and sponsors the volunteer programs of Xcel Energy and its subsidiaries. The majority of Xcel Energy Foundation funding comes from Xcel Energy shareholder dollars. To learn more about the Xcel Energy Foundation, visit our website. If your organization is interested in applying for a grant, visit this page.