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Western Adventure Gahanna Middle Schools

Traveling is an effective and immersive form of education, and this June, more than 30 students from Gahanna-Jefferson middle schools are heading west. The eighth graders will go on a week-long excursion through Yellowstone, Jackson Hole and Grand Teton, making several incredible stops along the way.

The initial idea for the trip came from teachers Willie Zamora, Colleen Alexander Green, Ed Thomas and Dave Palguta about 10 years ago when they were part of a Miami University class with a field station in Dubois, Wyoming. While the teachers were there, they realized it would be a wonderful opportunity for students. After two years of organization, they were ready to show kids the culture and science of the western part of the country.

While touring national landmarks and old western towns, students learn about biomes, animal adaptations, geology and plate tectonics – all topics they cover in sixth and eighth grade classes. They also are exposed to the culture of small western towns.

The group flies to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where the they attend orientation, a reenactment of a shoot-out in town square and a rodeo. For the next few days they go hiking, take a boat tour and attend a show to learn about cowboy culture. They also have a summer snowball fight on top of Mt. Rendezvous, where Palguta jokes he always becomes the target.

After leaving Jackson Hole, the group heads to Yellowstone with a few stops along the way, including Owbox Inn, where they get to see grizzlies that are used to living around people. At Yellowstone, the students visit Old Faithful, several natural pools, hot springs, the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and Lamar Valley, where they sometimes see wolves. They also go to the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center near their hotel to see wolves, grizzlies, golden eagles, bald eagles, osprey and other western wildlife up close.

Towards the end of the trip, they head to Dubois and stay in cabins at Crooked Creek Ranch. At the ranch, the have a campfire with skits, a singing cowgirl and get the chance to hear from a survivalist. They hike to waterfalls, ride on horseback around Brooks Lake, canoe at Colter Bay and square dance with locals before heading back to Ohio.

“My favorite part was all of the hiking,” said Ellie Long, a Middle School East student who attended the trip last year. “We were up so high and the views were amazing. I remember hearing there were trips we’d be able to go on when I was younger, and the Wyoming one really stuck with me. I’m so happy I went. It was definitely worth it.”

To make the trip as affordable as possible, it is chaperoned by a group of volunteer teachers and retired teachers. It also is booked through a non-profit group, rather than a travel company. Palguta thinks the price is well worth it, as it is the perfect combination of education and fun.

“It’s a really great learning experience for kids,” said Palguta. “Of course, they get to see what they’ve learned about in person and up close. But beyond that, they have the opportunity to see how other people live. They see that kids their age in Wyoming go to rodeos or go square dancing, which isn’t what they do in Ohio. It opens their eyes to different cultures within the United States.”

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