The water shimmers and glints as it gurgles down the path it has cut through the pink granite. Travertine lines the pools, creating white bowls that reflect back the turquoise water and reveal the creatures that live beneath the surface.
Middle school children gather around Scott Davidson as he points to the mayfly larvae sitting at the bottom of a basin.
“Mayflies are a good sign of water quality,” said the seventh-grade science teacher and leader of the Outdoor Adventure Club (OAC).
Fourteen children and four adults accompany Davidson on this first OAC trip of the year — an adventure to Water Wheel and Cold Springs.
Davidson has planned eight trips for the club throughout the school year. Other excursions include visits to a rock gym in Phoenix, caving in Flagstaff, a hike to the headwaters of Fossil Creek and a ski trip to Sunrise ski resort.
Davidson has headed up the club for about 10 years. Originally, OAC was the brainchild of social studies teacher Cody Muckelroy.
“Cody was good at kayaking and enjoyed the outdoors,” said Davidson.
That first year of the club, Davidson assisted Muckelroy until he moved to Durango, Colo. the following year. Davidson has run the club since.
“I was really lucky to have a dad who did lots of outdoor stuff with me. So many of the parents of these kids have to always work. They don’t have the time to take their kids out into nature,” said Davidson.
The tall, athletic teacher, beloved by his students, perfectly fits the role as leader for the OAC. As an added bonus, Davidson has volunteered with the Tonto Rim Search and Rescue group for the last 10 years. His training includes first aid and CPR, so parents can trust he will take good care of their children.
He enjoys the kids and trips immensely, but he also feels OAC addresses deeper issues.
“If you want kids to be environmentally aware, you’ve got to get them out into nature. If you want them to make decisions about the future of the land, they have to learn how to love it,” said Davidson.
The kids certainly love the land today. By 8 a.m. the temperature already stood at 90 degrees, a dip in the cool water offered a perfect solution to overheating. Arriving at the first deep pool, they tossed their hiking clothes and ran to the water in their bathing suits.
“It’s deep, OK?” said Anna Parker turning to beckon her friends into the stream.
“Davidson! Come in with us!” the others call.
The kids relish spending time with Davidson. He acts like one of them, climbing through holes and jumping off of rocks into the water. His mixture of teaching on the trail while playing with the kids, illustrates the range of possibilities he has with outdoor education.
Studies done on outdoor education programs indicate students learn environmental awareness, how to challenge themselves, take risks, and discover the freedom to experiment.
In a study done by Basil Fletcher on 3,000 graduates of the Outward Bound program, 86 percent of respondents felt their self-confidence had improved, 78 percent felt they had increased their general maturity level, while 64 percent believed they had become more aware of the needs of others.
Davidson sees these qualities in the kids who sign up for OAC.
“As far as a group goes, they end up being an accepting group of kids. Take a look; there are larger and smaller kids and different nationalities. They all get along,” said Davidson.
Jess Roberts, mother of Angelica Poe, a sixth-grader on the trip, agrees with Davidson.
“Being out here builds character and trust,” she said.
Davidson also believes that the kids who have a connection to nature tend to be more grounded and they are often drawn to science.
As Davidson talks, Michaela Rios interrupts, showing him a rock she’s found.
“I think I found shale,” said Michaela.
“Hmmm ... actually, this could be fine grained basalt,” said Davidson.
“It’s a great way to learn,” said Kezia Zuber, a special education teacher at the middle school who came along today to help drive one of the vans.
Michaela’s father Juan Rios agrees, “This is a way to show the kids there’s a lot more out there than TV and video games. It’s better than hearing, ‘I’m bored, I’m bored.’”
Just then Anna calls out to Davidson, “Get in the water!”
Laughing he catapults into the pool while the kids welcome him into the water. Next thing Davidson knows, the kids begin to gleefully chuck globs of moss at him.
“We always have to end the trip with a moss fight,” said Davidson.