The rich natural and cultural history of Pueblo Mountain Park’s 611 acres; a tried and true curriculum full of engaging activities; a dedicated administration that handles the numerous behind-the-scenes details; oh-so-generous financial support from foundations and individuals who believe in the value of Nature-based education – these are just some of what makes the Earth Studies program the award-winning program that it is.
And then there are the Earth Studies field educators. These are the gifted individuals who are in the field day after day, taking a good program and making it great. It takes a special combination of skills and qualities to be an Earth Studies educator – a love for the outdoors, a love for working with children, and a strong belief that children absolutely need to spend time learning in and experiencing the wonders of the natural world.
Taylor Driver, “Ranger Nag-ah” is MPEC’s Program Director who is in charge of training and leading the team of Earth Studies educators who take 5th graders through our comprehensive year-long multi-session program. She coordinates all schedules with Pueblo City Schools and works with district teachers to integrate the E.S. curriculum with school standards. Taylor, is a graduate of CSU-Pueblo’s Outdoor Leadership Program, and has taken a number of Masters Courses for Elementary Education. She loves sharing her passion for the natural world with anyone she comes across.
Our Team of Earth Studies Educators includes:
Marty Bechina, “Ranger Marty” is a retired seasoned math teacher from Pueblo City School District and outdoor enthusiast who loves education and people. His wife, Suzanne, is was a 5th grade teacher at Ben Franklin Elementary School and both their sons are also elementary school teachers as well. When not out teaching Earth Studies, he is busy with his contracting company, Sierra Homes – Residential and Commercial Construction. Marty loves skiing, mountain climbing, music and traveling.
Sandy Christensen, “Lone Ranger”, is a retired Pueblo City Schools PE teacher who knows the Park like the back of her hand. You can find Sandy and her trusty dog out hiking the park rain or shine. Sandy brings both her strong teaching skills and her naturalist expertise to each class she teaches. Along with being an Earth Studies educator, she also leads our Zuke’s Dog Hikes, along with many others.
Grant McKay, “Ranger Prime”, hails from the great plains of the southeastern Denver Metro area, and has been with us since Spring 2013. Grant is finishing his last semester in Community and Commercial Recreation at Colorado State University-Pueblo. He enjoys hiking, backpacking, skiing, and is known for his extensive collection of camp songs and fireside stories. He loves teaching people young and old about the wonders of the outdoors. Everyone trusts him, he’s an Eagle Scout.
Henry Pounds, “Ranger Aspen” , is originally from Maryland, but has lived and worked in the mountains of Southern Colorado for over 30 years. He has been a Ranger with us since Spring 2014. Henry studied art education at CSU-Pueblo, and he still finds enjoyment creating artwork in a variety of mediums. His love of the outdoors stems from his youth, spending time in the fields and forests, learning the skills of hunting and fishing from his father. Henry enjoys hiking, camping, canoeing and mushroom hunting.
Denise Vargas, “Ranger Dee” comes to us with a Master’s Degree in Applied Natural Science, and has over twenty years of teaching experience, which began as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Lesotho, Southern Africa. Her love for children and nature is a wonderful combination that makes her an excellent outdoor educator. In addition to her job duties at the Pueblo Mountain Park, she is also a naturalist at the Nature and Raptor Center of Pueblo.
“Ranger Dave” Van Manen returns to teach Earth Studies this year bringing his rich history of developing the Earth Studies program over a decade ago and his passion for teaching children about the natural world. The Founder of MPEC and past Executive Director, Dave currently wears a number of hats as MPEC’s Special Project Coordinator. He is excited to be back on the Earth Studies teaching team for the 2015/16 school year!