Students in Wilderness Initiative

Photo credit: Mason Cummings, The Wilderness Society

Why Wilderness?

The Students in Wilderness Initiative (SIWI) is an immersive program piloted in 2018 that aims to develop critical thinkers of New Mexico’s next generation and share the beauty and value of our public lands, with an emphasis on Wilderness Areas. We believe that when classrooms adopt these Wilderness Areas, this connection will foster an appreciation for the outdoors, bring alive indoor classroom topics, and provide opportunities to give students ownership of their local lands.


SIWI consists of three components to bring 8th grade students closer to their public lands:

  1. once-monthly classroom discussions with local stakeholders and land managers
  2. a total of 10 days on place-based learning in the field
  3. a final presentation at the end of the school year

Experiential Education. SIWI collaborates with New Mexican 8th graders to embark upon transformative multi-day expeditions (a 1 day trip in the fall, a 3 day trip in the fall, a 1 day trip in the winter, and a 4-5 day backpack during the spring). These expeditions, complimented by classroom learning, establish a long-term connection with the public lands that will allow students to play outside as well as observe environmental changes over time.

Classroom Sessions. The classroom portion will include facilitated monthly sessions in classrooms that will engage students with New Mexico stakeholders, including landowners, land managers, and recreation enthusiasts, to provide a well-rounded perspective on the significance of public lands.

Project-Based Learning. Students will share their year of experience by presenting their final projects that speak to the question, “What is Wilderness and why does it matter?” Students will practice public speaking, fielding questions, and making arguments with an audience of fellow students, stakeholders, policy makers, families, and community members in May 2020.

Next Year

Each school year, SIWI seeks to expand to include 2-3 more schools. If you are an 8th grade teacher or know someone who would like to get involved, come speak with a class about your experience with public lands, or attend the final student presentations, contact Monica at programs@cottonwoodgulch.org or 505-248-0563.

Many Thanks

We could not run this program without the critical support of our partner, The Wilderness Society.  We are grateful for their support as we work to bridge New Mexico students with the public lands and grow the environmental stewards and critical thinkers of the next generation! To figure out how you can get involved, email programs@cottonwoodgulch.org.

Partner Schools

In the 2019-2020 school year, we are working with 270 8th graders from:

Monte del Sol Charter School

Mountain Mahogany Community School

South Valley Academy

South Valley Preparatory School

Van Buren Middle School

 Where We Go

Every expedition includes a visit to either a Wilderness or a WSA. We most frequently study:

Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah Wilderness

El Malpais Wilderness

Gila Wilderness

San Pedro Parks Wilderness

Pecos Wilderness

SIWI Stories

2018-2019 Annual Report

Student Projects