‘Newcomers’ study new environment

Feb 20, 2017

Students at Basalt High School take a hands-on approach to studying snow science.
Credit Elizabeth Stewart-Severy/Aspen Public Radio News

Immigrants who are new to Roaring Fork Valley schools often come from warm, tropical countries. A partnership between Basalt High School and the Roaring Fork Conservancy aims to help students understand their new environment.


Liza Mitchell from the Roaring Fork Conservancy met 25 students from Basalt High School near the Campground Lift at Snowmass Ski Area. It was unseasonably warm, and windy enough to shut down the Elk Camp Gondola. The high schoolers pile off the bus in jeans and sneakers.

Liza Mitchell with Roaring Fork Conservancy helps a student measure snow as part of a day studying water content in the snowpack.
Credit Elizabeth Stewart-Severy/Aspen Public Radio News

These students are part of Basalt’s “Newcomers” program, which provides sheltered instruction to kids who have only recently arrived in the United States. Only two of the 25 students have been to a ski area before. They are there to study snow science, as part of a year-long class focused on climate.

The students race into the snow, veering off trail and sinking to their hips, laughing and playing. This introduction to a totally new, high-alpine environment is a major part of the day’s goal.

“Today is about a little of the science to see that what we’re doing in the classroom has real-world application,” said teacher Eric Vozick. “The laughter is always a key. And that they can have exposure to this world.”


Mitchell and Vozick showed the kids how to dig snow pits, and with their principal and teachers working right alongside them, students experimented with snow density and water content.

Teacher Eric Vozick helps students measure the water content of snow at the base of Snowmass.
Credit Elizabeth Stewart-Severy/Aspen Public Radio News

According to Mitchell, the common language of science can serve double duty. On one hand, it’s about concepts like climate, snowpack and water supply. She said science can also help bridge a cultural divide.

“A hundred milliliters is a hundred milliliters, and a density calculation is a density calculation, whether it’s in English or in Spanish,” Mitchell said.