North Shore gets new ‘Winter Discovery Center’ | SierraSun.com

North Shore gets new ‘Winter Discovery Center’

Andrew Cristancho
Sierra Sun

Winter ecology class for grade scholars may be a little bit more fun ” and fast ” if two outdoor-based organizations are able to raise the resources.

The Tahoe Cross Country Ski Education Association and the Sierra Watershed Education Partnership are teaming up to create a new Winter Discovery Center at the Tahoe Nordic Center in Tahoe City, according to Valli Murnane, the ski association’s director.

The new center will be housed in a heated, thirty-foot yurt ” half tent, half permanent structure ” near the entrance of the ski area, Murnane said.

The structure will be wired with electricity and be the staging area for an academic program that will meet state standards, said Christine McMorrow of the Sierra Watershed Education Partnership.

McMorrow said the partnership is a perfect fit.

“We have the expertise ” connecting the local student to the local environment and working outdoors, and [Murnane] has the location ” the place, the equipment and the teachers that are already going there,” she said.

The center conducts a “schools ski free” program, which hosts 4-5 grade school classes per week from Tahoe Lake and Kings Beach Elementary schools, Murnane said. The students and faculty receive free use of rental equipment for the program.

The next step was for the nordic center to develop the educational program for those classes, according to Marisa Lopez, grant writer for the winter center.

McMorrow said since the program will meet state standards it will be more attractive to teachers looking to beef up science curriculum while allowing students a necessary break from the confines of the classroom.

Physical activity is a required component of grade school education, said Dave Goggin fifth grade teacher at Tahoe Lake, and can lead to students opening their minds to different subjects like math and science. He said the blending of the two ” exercise and science ” is exciting and, “is the direction we need to go,” for children’s education.

The program is targeted to third through fifth graders, and aims to teach them how to tell the difference between local trees, understand the life cycle of Sierra plant and animal life and how to track animals and humans in the snow. All the learning will be mixed with lessons in the sport of cross country skiing, Murnane said.

“We will evaluate the effectiveness of the program objectives by analyzing pre- and post- tests for the participating students, and teacher evaluations,” according to Murnane.

“Kids can recognize hundreds of corporate logos and yet they don’t know the trees in their backyard they see every day ” we are trying to change that,” McMorrow said.

The cost of the facility and educational materials will be over $37,000, which organizers hope to secure through grants and donations, Lopez said.

Officials hope to break ground on the project this spring, and be ready for classes for the 2008-09 winter season, Murnane said.

Ongoing maintenance and funding is expected to cost about $5,000, which Murnane hopes to raise through their annual Gourmet Ski Tour Fundraiser held in early March.

The Ski Education Association is a non-profit organization with a board of directors “whose mission is to develop the sport of cross country skiing through youth and adult ski education programs,” Murnane said.

The mission of Sierra Watershed Education Partnerships “is to promote environmental stewardship by connecting students to their community and local environment through comprehensive watershed education and service-learning,” according to their Web site.