Local Middle School Students Experience Outdoors with CC Student Organization

 A Colorado College Learning Initiative in the Mountains club session takes place at Garden of the Gods on Oct. 12, 2022, with West Middle School students. Photo submitted by Claire Thompson '25.
A Colorado College Learning Initiative in the Mountains club session takes place at Garden of the Gods on Oct. 12, 2022, with West Middle School students. Photo submitted by Claire Thompson '25.

Colorado College Learning Initiative in the Mountains (CCLIM) partnered with West Middle School and Jack Swigert Aerospace Academy (JSAA) to give local middle school students the opportunity to build self-esteem and learn environmental respect through an outdoor education program.

Once a week, 10 CC students meet with about 15 Jack Swigert Aerospace Academy middle school students to learn about the outdoors, spend time outside, and make connections with each other. The middle school students tend to be the same each week, which helps CC students form tighter connections with them. 

“Our mission at CCLIM is to foster a space where kids, who may not normally be exposed to the outdoors, get to learn to love the outdoors just as much as we do,” says co-chairs Claire Thompson ’25, Emma Markland ’25, and Isabella Childs Michael ’25. “We are a non-profit organization, so we really emphasize the fact that we provide all activities to students at no cost to them or their families. CCLIM is a safe space for all these kids to hang out with knowledgeable— and cool! —college students once a week. They really get to be themselves and gain an appreciation for the outdoors and all the fun activities we do.”

CC originally partnered with West Middle School to conduct CCLIM, but due to support staff changes, this year the club is working with Jack Swigert Aerospace Academy. Both schools are within District 11, which made the change in partner schools a bit easier.

Thompson says one of her favorite moments from CCLIM was when the club took West Middle School students to CC’s climbing gym and saw them fall in love with an activity many hadn’t tried before.

“Some of them had experience climbing in a gym before, while some had never stepped foot in a climbing gym,” says Thompson, an Environmental Science major. “Some of the kids who had never climbed before were very apprehensive and nervous at first and refused to try it. But after we talked to them and showed them that it was very low stakes and super fun, they tried it out, and loved it! It was so fun to see them try something new and fall in love with it, even if it took a little bit of pushing from our leaders to get them out of their comfort zones." 

Prior to COVID-19, CCLIM and West Middle School were able to use CC vans to transport students to many different community and outdoor activities, like Red Rocks Open Space and Garden of the Gods. The co-chairs say they are playing catch up to bring these activities back as quickly as possible.

“We are very excited about this first semester we have planned as half of our events are able to be off the JSAA campus, whether that be outside in nature or lessons at CC,” says Thompson, who joined CCLIM during her first year at CC and became co-chair at the beginning of her sophomore year. “One of my personal favorite events is an extended event we hold at Garden of the Gods on Leave No Trace (LNT) practices.” 

During the Leave No Trace event, CC and the middle school students spend two hours at Garden on the Gods exploring and playing games while learning about the seven principles of LNT.

CCLIM members brainstorm and build the club’s curriculum together, and then members will sign up to lead specific sessions, such as the Leave No Trace or Climate Change Summit events. The co-chairs will meet with the event’s leader to gather materials and finalize curriculum plans.

While the club’s goal is to make an impact on local middle school students, it is clear CC students enjoy the club meetings as much as the middle school students do.

“Another one of my favorite times was when we did an egg drop-off of Hybl. We gave students a bunch of random materials from cardboard, felt, clay, Styrofoam, and just other random recycled materials and then divided them into teams,” Thompson says. “Their job was to drop an egg off the Hybl deck and make sure it did not crack. They engineered so many different ways to hold the egg, and nobody's egg cracked! It was so fun to see them work together and get super creative, and all the CC kids made contraptions too, which was so fun for us.”

“Wednesday is the highlight of my week and a great way to take a brain break during more challenging blocks,” says Markland, an Education major. “Connecting with these middle schoolers is so meaningful and rewarding. Students should join CCLIM to get connected with their community and school systems in a new way.”

Thompson, Markland, and Michael recruit club members at CC and Amy Tomerlin, the partner teacher at Jack Swigert Aerospace Academy, does the recruiting at her school. Tomerlin previously worked at West Middle School and had been the partner teacher with CCLIM there. The co-chairs and Tomerlin meet several times a year to check in on how things on going on both ends, and discuss whether any adjustments are needed to meet the needs of students at JSAA and CC.

“I initially joined CCLIM because I love the outdoors and love working with and mentoring kids and CCLIM merged these two passions,” says Markland, who is an Outdoor Education leader, as well as a student worker at the Children’s Center on campus.

The co-chairs don’t know the exact founding year of CCLIM, but believe it started about 15 years ago and say it is one of the longest run clubs at CC. “Making a connection with CC and the greater Colorado Springs community is really important to us, and we are so lucky to keep this awesome club running for so many years,” they say.

“I am incredibly grateful to the people who have taught me to be more comfortable recreating in the outdoors, which is why I am so motivated to pass on what I have learned to other folks,” says Michael, a Cultural Anthropology major and Arabic, Islamic, and Middle Eastern Studies minor. “I joined CCLIM fall of last year with this passion in mind and have had a blast so far!"

The club meets every Wednesday, with the exception of fourth week, from 4 to 6 p.m. “Because one of CCLIM’s goals is to build meaningful relationships with middle school students, we expect that CC students can set two hours aside each week for our club,” the co-chairs say. “It’s important as a club that we build deep relationships with these students so that both parties want to continue to return.” 

For more information or to join CCLIM, please check out the club’s Instagram or email Claire Thompson


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