Thomas Jefferson

High School | Home of the Spartans

Balarat Outdoor Education

Posted 05/15/2016 by Cecelia Allen

artwork by Andrew Villescas

Volunteering at Balarat provides students with more than just community service hours.

Balarat Outdoor Education is an opportunity for students to get community service hours, as well as to try something they have not yet experienced. Volunteering to be a high school leader at Balarat gives students a new perspective as leaders, offering them an idea of both the difficulty and rewards of leadership.

Balarat is a learning program for Denver Public Schools students, where individuals learn environmental examination, leadership expertise, and Western history; it is a year-round facility, providing younger students with outdoor learning experiences, counselors, and learning materials. It’s located near Jamestown, Colorado, and activities are planned for the fifth grade level. After  having applied and been accepted to the program, high school students are assigned six days to help out, either two three-day periods, or three two-day periods during the school year.  Counselor Stephanie Stone commented, “Balarat gives students a hands on experience. They can learn about all kinds of plants and animals that live in the mountains of Colorado. They also get a chance to experience what life was like back in the 1800’s.” On top of this experience, students can earn five hours of community service hours to help fulfill graduation requirements.

Upperclassmen at TJ can volunteer to be counselors at Balarat, assisting the fifth graders who attend the camp; students can contact Stone if they are interested in signing up for Balarat when they choose their classes for next year. “Students can request from their counselor that they be added to the Balarat class.” Stone explained. “They then must attend an informational meeting in the fall.” After that they sign up for an on site training session. Participating students will also hear from a Balarat counselor, who will explain the Balarat process.

High school counselors are able to participate in numerous activities at Balarat, leading activities like hiking, including the mile-long Ecology Hike. This hike is particularly valuable to the fifth graders’ experiences at Balarat, allowing them to examine plants and their environment. For many of these students, this activity is a rare opportunity for them to enjoy nature and the outdoors, so the experience can be extremely precious. Other activities include interactive learning, incorporates students into the lesson, rather than having students the observe. The topics they get to learn about are chosen by their classroom teachers. These activities include showing fifth graders what a miner’s job was, and participating in similar procedures such as mining in a rock or exploring the inside of the mine. Students also get to see an old mine located on the Balarat grounds along with experiencing the fun, TJ counselors will help lead these activities, guiding the younger students throughout the trip.

The Balarat counselors enjoy participating in the activities almost as much as the students do. “My favorite part is doing the ropes course, because we got to do it too,” explained senior and counselor Gabby Harrison. “Plus, the kids really enjoy it, and it’s fun watching them have such a good time.” Each group that comes to Balarat is different, and the activities they do depend on the behavior of the kids. Harrison explained, “If we knew the group was a really great group, then the teachers and Balarat leaders would do something more challenging with the class. If we knew the class had a couple trouble makers, we would do less challenging things.”

Each semester, volunteers go through a training process to prepare them for their interactions with fifth graders. This mandatory yearly training session is similar to Balarat trips, lasting two days and one night. While there, counselors learn the trails they will be taking the students on, as well as the activities they will run. “The training is a lot of fun because it’s all of the DPS high schools up there,” Harrison explained.

Overall, counselling at Balarat as a high school student is a valuable experience, allowing students to experience Balarat from a new point of view, along with offering valuable leadership skills. “This experience has really made me appreciate teachers more,” Harrison described. “It can be really difficult to keep track of twenty to thirty kids. I don’t know how teachers do it!” For more information on participating in and applying to Balarat, students can contact Stone in the counseling office.