Valles Caldera Trust Education Program Earns A+

VCNP Lead Educator Brittney Van Der Werff helps a young student ‘load’ the atlatl. Courtesy/VCNP

Students collect forest monitoring data for Preserve restoration work. Courtesy/VCNP


The report card is in and Valles Caldera Trust Education programs bested last year’s scores. The program includes class field trips, hands-on-learning activities and experiments conducted by Lead Educator Brittney Van Der Werff.

When students and teachers are unable to travel to the open air classroom of the Preserve, Van Der Werff brings a bit of the caldera to them (See Bubble Gum and Dice). The program has grown steadily each year and fiscal year 2014 was a record breaker.

In 2013 a total of 899 students participated in programs managed by education staff. That was a little more than a 17 percent increase over the 743 participants from 2012. In 2014 education programs attracted 1,195 students, which is a year over year increase of almost 25 percent and a 38 percent increase from 2012. Universities from as far away as Tennessee and California joined local schools to comprise a nationwide list of 25 institutions that participated in education programs.

“We partner with the extension service at the University of California San Diego to bring high school students from California to the Valles Caldera National Preserve,” Van Der Werff said. “We teach them about leadership, climate change, and forest restoration.”

If 2014 was an A+ year, 2015 has all the earmarks of an A+++ year. So far the fall field trip season is booked solid and ahead of last year’s pace. Requests for visits to schools are also on the rise. The increase in demand speaks to the quality and popularity of the programs but it also stretches resources. The 25 schools which did manage to participate last year represent half of all the schools who applied.

“Schools like our education programs,” notes Van Der Werff, “but with only one educator, we cannot possibly keep up with demand.”

There are openings for field trips next spring but they are filling up fast. For more information about education programs at the Preserve, go to Also, to volunteer, email