Willow Bend Center Provides Environmental Education to Flagstaff Residents
If you had to pedal a bicycle to produce the energy needed to run the computer you were on right now, how much energy would it need? The Willow Bend Environmental Education Center in Flagstaff can give you an idea.
The Willow Bend Center has been bringing environmental education to Arizona since 1978. Each year, the Willow Bend Center educates 14,000 students in northern Arizona through its classroom programs and field trips.
The Willow Bend Center
The center has a Green Building, Discovery Room, gardens and the Biobug. The Green building was built in 2002 with the helping hands of volunteers from the community and incorporates a host of sustainable living practices.
“The building is passive-solar straw bale with a grid-tied photovoltaic system, rainwater cisterns, backyard habitat landscaping and native crop gardens, composting and more,” says Sapna Sopori, director of the Willow Bend Environmental Education Center. “In addition, our Discovery Room has interactive displays that demonstrate how how easy it is being ‘green’ in our personal lives.”
In the Discovery Room, you can ride the light bike to find out how much energy it takes to light up a regular light bulb as opposed to a compact flourescent light bulb, as well as how much water a person in Flagstaff uses each day and how recycled soda bottles become a fleece jacket.
Many of the education activities, such as the Discovery Room exhibits and Quest: A Natural History Treasure Hunt, are free. To supplement the educational experience on site, Willow Bend will be getting a shade structure and new outdoor learning space for educational use through its relationship with the Coconino County Parks and Recreation.
“This structure will be made of local small-diameter Ponderosa pine and will provide an outdoor learning space for Willow Bend,” she says.
The Willow Bend Center Educational Program
“We are best known for our Pre-K through 12 public school programs and work within the school districts to make teaching [environmental education] easier on teachers,” Sopori says. “Each of our 50 unique classroom programs is state standards aligned and offered free or low cost to teachers.”
The Willow Bend Center sends qualified educators to the schools with materials for hands-on, engaging, environmental science programs that focus on the bio-region and associated with community issues. Supplementary field experiences that build on the classroom programs are also offered. Currently these field workshops are held at Willow Bend or Sawmill County Park, and can even be provided at the schools themselves, to reduce busing costs and turn schoolyards into explorable habitats.
“Over 85 percent of the teachers that use Willow Bend rated our programs as above average or excellent, and 99 percent plan to continue using us in the future,” Sopori says. “[But,] children aren’t the only ones who can benefit from our programs; we also offer amazing teacher workshops to prepare and inspire educators to incorporate [environmental education] into their curriculum, both in the classroom and in the field.”
Willow Bend offers day-long programs such as the Science of Solar to more intensive 12-day programs such as the Yellowstone workshop, to help educators feel comfortable using the environment as the context for learning. These programs can be used for continuing education credit through FUSD, so formal teachers can meet their certification requirements as well.
The Willow Bend Center Community Events
The center has a variety of educational public programs for people of all ages. Though the Willow Bend Center focuses much of its time with the school system, they recognize the benefit of extending environmental education to the community as a whole.
“For this reason, we offer Family Science Events so families can enjoy experiencing nature and learning together,” Sopori says. “For example, our Radical Reptiles class is a great way for parents and kids to learn why snakes, lizards, turtles, etc. are such amazing creatures and see beautiful live specimens up close and personal.”
The center also offers Adult Adventures, where adults can get outside, get active and learn directly from professionals in environmental science.
“Willow Bend is dedicated to connecting northern Arizona to the environment, empowering our community to live more sustainable, and always providing hope for a fruitful tomorrow,” Sopori says.