Doug Hulmes, Professor of Environmental Studies and Education, has taught the Environmental Education Methods course for many years. This is an upper division course focused on training Prescott College students to take 5th graders from the Prescott Unified School District out on educational adventures in the Prescott area. A major component of the course is the seven-week long Prescott Creeks and Watershed Program. In this program, Prescott College and Granite Mountain School students join together for a field trip every Thursday to learn about the water cycle, the local watershed, and the history of the landscape. The emerging environmental educators from the College benefit by forming a lasting bond with the same group of young people for the entire course.
Focusing on the watershed is important to Hulmes because, “it is an issue that is very relevant to the town of Prescott and the bioregion.” The goal of the course is to help Prescott College students teach the 5th graders that “this is their home, and in order to live here in the future, we have to learn how to take care of it.” When preparing his students to facilitate young groups of people, Hulmes not only stresses the complexity of the problems we face, but the solutions as well.
What is unique about the Environmental Education program at Prescott College is the focus on the history of landscapes in addition to a scientific curriculum. Hulmes says, “It is critical that students have a historic understanding of their environment.” In this program, “we create a mural with the 5th graders to look at the creeks of Prescott from a standpoint of going back in time to the Pleistocene.” Students learn about the megafauna that used to roam around the Prescott area 12,600 years ago. The prehistoric times come alive for the students when they learn of the Mastodon bone and the Clovis spear-point that was found in the Hassayampa drainage a several years ago. Hulmes says, “the 5th graders start to understand that they were not the first ones here. The Megafauna, the Clovis people, the Yavapai people, the Spaniards and the gold rush miners came much before them.” The emerging environmental educators show their students how the environment has been impacted by these previous groups of people and the modern community that lives there today. According to Hulmes, “Then the question is, how do we want the future of the Prescott and Yavapai County to be different? Is there going to be enough water and is it going to be of quality? Are we going to have open space for people to recreate?”
Everything that the students have learned over the course of the 6 week program culminates at the last field trip in the Watson Woods Riparian Preserve and sewage treatment plant.
After exploring in the creeks of Prescott, “the 5th graders get to see what happens to all of our water once it reaches the bottom of the watershed.” The Watson Woods area used to be gravel pit and dumping grounds for the city of Prescott. Hulmes acknowledges the efforts of Prescott College students and alumni, and community members for turning the preserve “into one of the best restored riparian ecosystems in the state of Arizona.” To end the program on a special note, “the 5th graders each plant an arizona walnut tree as token of their commitment to this place.”
The final week of the program occurs at the Mingus Springs camp on Mingus Mountain, where the fifth grade students have the opportunity to attend a three day camp experience where they study art and forest ecology. The combination of field trips that focus on the local watershed along with a residential camp experience makes this a truly remarkable program.
By starting with awareness and appreciation of the creeks in Prescott, to an engagement with the issues that we are facing, students recognize they can make a difference.
“I have had the opportunity to work with sons and daughters of students that I had in the program over thirty years ago. At camp I work with parents who help run the program and have built significant bridges between the College and the town of Prescott. The teachers from Granite Mountain have become friends as well as colleagues. My students have the opportunity to interact with the local community in a way that confirms our place in Prescott. On one of the field trips, the fifth graders visit the campus and are given a tour of the native landscaping, and restoration of Butte Creek. They compare the differences with creeks that have been neglected, and also encounter local homeless, who have been living along the creeks. Students have even offered them food from their lunches, while others have been thanked by the homeless and say they will continue to clean up after themselves.” - Doug Hulmes