Education column: Geysers erupt at La Casita

Cindy Kleyn-Kennedy

You’ve heard of Old Faithful? Last week crowds of students and teachers at La Casita Elementary “ooh-ed” and “ahh-ed” at erupting geysers on their own school playground.

Admittedly, there was something thrilling about watching the streams shoot up, one right after the other, 20 feet or so into the air. Geysers at La Casita, you ask?

Orchestrated by Principal Sylvia Martinez and English-as-a-Second-Language teacher Tonya Rocha, with the help of teachers and custodians, Mario Urias and Patricia Meraz, three or four geysers erupted every hour on the hour one morning to provide an opportunity for all classes to come and view from around the perimeter of the “geyser” area.

I arrived just in time to hear two of Elsa Galvan’s second grade students asking if they could share what they’d learned about geysers, which they did.

This event, representing Yellowstone’s Old Faithful, was one of the stops along the way in the cross-country virtual trek the students and teachers at La Casita have undertaken this year. Growing out of last year’s Mileage Club, begun during noon recesses on Wednesdays, this year’s La Casita students are trekking across the country, in a virtual sense.

Initially part of health lessons to combat childhood obesity, students began walking the perimeter of the playground just before parents came to pick up their children after lunch on early-release Wednesdays.

Teachers provided students with dye-cut “feet” which were stamped each time they completed a mile.

As the kids increasingly prized their cumulative progress, many of the parents began to walk with them. Before long the Mileage Club was born and continued through last year.

As students clamored to begin again this school year, Martinez and her staff considered how they might build on the idea and expand the activity educationally.

Since students seemed determined to keep walking (and running) to accumulate miles, teachers began graphically depicting the actual cumulative distances the students were covering on a giant map of the U.S., which now resides on the school cafeteria wall.

They continue to plan routes, tally miles, keep journals, and, as students reach various milestones on their virtual trek, they pause to celebrate with a unique event that the whole school shares.

Since the beginning of the year, students have “walked” through Santa Fe, past the Grand Canyon on through southern California, where they celebrated with a Hollywood Bash, complete with red carpet.

Circling to the north and back to the east, the Yellowstone stop provided the opportunity for the geyser project. (I know there was a chemistry lesson there, too, when I overheard something about buried Diet Coke bottles and Mentos).

The next milestone is Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota, where a carving project is planned. What a delightful way to tie in literacy skills, math, health, science, and geography, involving parents along the way.

If you happen to drop by La Casita for a glimpse of the giant map, be sure to bring your walking shoes.