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Camouflage Jacket

white snowshoe harebrown snowshoe hare

I have been lucky enough to spend the last year living on a beautiful piece of land north of Silverthorne, Colorado, just outside the city limits. The property we share with a handful of other tenants and friends is a great place to come home to each evening, and now that the snow has begun to melt, a perfect place to take evening walks.

The back property is a wide open field of sage and grass, a great habitat for a host of small mammals. Just a few days ago my girlfriend Carrie and I decided to take a stroll at the end of our day. With the sun staying out later each evening and the snow essentially gone, we set out on a journey with our two dogs by our sides. The air was crisp and it felt great to enjoy an area that is mostly unpassable for many months of the year except for cross country skiing and the occasional snowshoe adventure.

As we walked along not really following a trail we came to an area of the field dense with sage brush. The obstacles slowed us down as we focused intently on each step. I stopped to enjoy the view of the Gore Range for a moment when suddenly a large white flash grabbed my attention. It was a Snowshoe hare, startled from under the brush only a few feet in front of where I stood. The speed with which it moved caught me off guard at first and I called for Carrie to watch as a scene you’d see in a nature film unfolded before our eyes. It looked majestic and calculated as it bounded distances that only Olympic athletes could gather the strength to leap.

Its white body floated with grace and incredible speed through a brown and mint green habitat. Like nothing I had ever seen before its brightness shown through the sage with bursts of white. Its movements were precise and I watched in awe as it expertly maneuvered through an area that I had just clumsily and slowly navigated. And just like that, it was gone, only a speck of white far from its original hiding place. This was a rare sight to see, and the stark difference in color between the hare and a habitat it once felt was safe, was breathtaking and concerning all at the same time.

Snowshoe hare have a special adaptation, along with a few other inhabitants of the High Rockies. These elusive mammals turn from brown to white in the winter time. Each small hair on their coats actually loses its pigment for the winter months. Their hair follicles are hollow, which adds extra air space that helps to insulate the hare’s body from the cold. This color change also creates a perfect camouflage jacket, as long as there is snow.
As we made our may back to our house, I thought about the plight of a bright white creature in a not so bright white habitat. Are these hares unable to keep up with the shorter winter season this year? And how does climate change tie into this equation? One thing I do know is that our friend is a prime target for the predators that are after him, at least until he changes back to a more suitable summer color. It is important for us as humans to be aware of the impact we have on this planet, but I think it is also important to appreciate its beauty while we are still here.

CATCH Kids Get Healthy

CATCH camp group

The story below was written by Jessica Newton, CATCH Afterschool Coordinator at Summit Cove Elementary (SCE). She is in her first year coordinating CATCH programming at Summit Cove Elementary. Her story below illustrates one example of the positive impact the CATCH curriculum has had on one particular participant at Summit Cove Elementary.
*Please note: The names used in this story have been changed in order to protect privacy.

At Summit Cove Elementary we currently offer CATCH programming to a diverse group of children with hugely varying backgrounds in nutrition and physical activity. Some participants have been practicing healthy living at home since birth, and while others have never played a sport, been given the opportunity to participate in recreation outside of the normal school day, or to learn about healthy eating until participating in CATCH. It has become clear to me that the impact CATCH programming has on each participant and family, while differing greatly, is equally important.

One second grader in particular stands out to me as someone whose life has been, and continues to be, positively impacted by her everyday participation in CATCH at Summit Cove Elementary. Rachel (not her real name) is a happy little girl, but not very healthy, falling into the obese category for kids (96-99th percentile) which is cause for concern, given the percentiles for kids being quite liberal with 5-95th percent being considered normal weight.

Rachel is one of the kids in our program who has not had as many opportunities outside of CATCH to learn about nutrition, try delicious healthy foods, or to participate in local sports clubs, and other "GO" activities. Rachel is typically very enthusiastic about attending CATCH programming each and every afternoon. She loves all of the nutritious snacks and enjoys trying new foods. She is very interested in the nutrition lessons, frequently raising her hand to answer questions, and showing excitement when she gets answers correct. Rachel focuses on, and is fully involved in, the daily nutrition lessons, retaining the information and answering questions correctly 9 out of 10 times. When we are doing stretches and exercises she always gives 110%, doing her absolute best. When we are playing various tag games and other "GO" activities she is energetic and excited to play. When we are learning new sports skills she is persistent in learning and improving. Rachel is clearly learning, growing, and making improvements towards her health and fitness.

Rachel is just one example of the awesome kids at Summit Cove who I have the privilege to teach. My favorite thing about being a CATCH Coordinator is seeing the kids’ excitement when they progress and make individual improvements. The CATCH Curriculum makes it easy to plan fun and interactive lessons that teach the children about making healthy choices while helping to improve their fitness levels and lead more healthy lives. Kids like Rachel help me see the impact the CATCH program is making on the local community and on individual participants in the program.

Keystone Science School is now offering Summer CATCH Camp. Learn more and enroll your child this summer!

Teaching Girls to Lead

Role models EllenKSS Executive Director Ellen Reid helps guide a lesson as part of the 4th Grade Astronomy program.

"Supporting women STEM students and researchers is not only an essential part of America’s strategy to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world; it is also important to women themselves. Women in STEM jobs earn 33 percent more than those in non-STEM occupations and experience a smaller wage gap relative to men."  - Office of Science and Technology Policy

I like to think of myself as a next-gen feminist. Sure, women have the vote, and numerous laws have been passed protecting our rights and freedoms, but do women really see themselves as equal to men in terms of their potential and opportunities? At this point in US history, it seems to me that while certain dangers are still out there for women, much of sexism exists within the mind - our preconceived notions of what it means to be a girl, and all the many "shoulds" that we put on ourselves as we strive to find a place in American society.

Keystone Science School is full of strong women and I'm so proud that our very own Megan Hollenbeck took it upon herself to create a Girls in STEM program. Designed to engaged 3rd through 6th grade girls in STEM subjects, Girls in STEM is a full day of fun, hands-on activities - no boys allowed! The first program is scheduled for Saturday, April 25, 2015 from 9 am to 5:00 pm. Registration is open and financial aid is available. We also need volunteers so please consider being a part of this amazing program. 

 

Love to our Instructors

SP Instructors Group Shot

Even on President's Day, School programs is in full gear. On Monday morning and we said goodbye to a school from Texas and welcomed a new group from Kremmling, Colorado. Half our staff worked through the weekend, while the other half rested in anticipation of Monday morning.

Our School programs instructors and apprentices are an amazing group of adaptable educators. They work on weekends and late into the night to ensure each school group has a unique and valuable experience. The curriculum for each program is tailored to the school’s needs and this is what makes our organization unique. It is not easy to lead students on cross-country skis at high elevation, but our instructors do it gracefully while teaching students science. I love to listen in on their 5 o’clock evening meetings as they recap the successes and challenges of the day. This, I think, is the sign of a good educator – a willingness to take part in the reflective process and constantly improve. Our instructors are willing and able to look objectively at their teaching, while reaching out to each other for feedback and then integrating new activities and approaches – all with the goal of being the best instructors possible.

So, following Valentine’s Day and a long weekend of work, I want to send a shout out to our School programs staff. I have nothing but love and respect for each of you. We have three months left of the school year and many more crazy and fun days ahead of us. I know through rain, snow, and sunshine each of you will continue doing what you do best. And for that, I salute you (and will continue to bring chocolate into the office to feed your cravings).

Outdoor Education and Bob Craig's Legacy

 SP slideshow image 3School Programs Instructor Kendra Fuller with a group of students ready to explore snow science.

A tribute to our founder, Bob Craig, and all that he created: 
Bob, thanks for believing in the cause of outdoor education and creating KSS so that we could share this experience with so many people.

From my perspective, outdoor education employs some of the most selfless and hardworking individuals I’ve ever met, and KSS is no exception. Our field instructors at KSS, and instructors at other organizations around the country, make each school program a magical experience for their students. This network of amazing people help me love my job.

Nobody goes in to outdoor education to make money, to have conveniences like indoor plumbing or plush offices with enough space for all staff to sit down. You can’t work as an instructor and expect privacy or solitude, or individual tasks. But luckily the rough, communal reality of the job is well worth it.

There is wealth in the fresh air, coziness in cabins built with hundreds of years of history hiding among the nails and chinking. There is comfort in holding staff meetings on shared chairs or clustered together in a stuffy converted bedroom now named The Room of Excellence. A KSS instructor lives as part of a team, works as a team, cooks and cleans as a team. It’s hard to feel lonely, and it’s hard to feel unfulfilled.
I have been fortunate over the years to have found a home at four different outdoor science programs, and I, like Bob Craig, have a firm belief in the wealth of experience and joy these programs offer.

I asked around to friends working in outdoor programs across the country to answer this simple question: What makes the sacrifices worth it?

“I don’t think of it as a sacrifice. When I spend my weekend in the woods teaching kids about squirrel tracks, I am learning and having fun too. EE [experiential education] challenges and changes me too. I love seeing kids learn about different ways to be in this world, and the relationships we form outside help us learn together” – Morgan, Boston, MA

“Its watching the light bulb that goes off in those students where it takes a school teacher 1...2…3 different ways to explain the subject. Traditional school is not a successful avenue for all students and EE/ science school can be an environment where those who don’t succeed in traditional school DO succeed.” – Mandy, Durango, CO

“It gives you the opportunity to expose youth to parts of the world that they might have never known existed, and in doing so, you make them interested and engaged with the outdoors… And you get to play outside too!” Michael, Portola, CA

“My favorite moments are organic – kids reacting to each other and me in an open honest way that is harder to come by in the traditional classroom. It's a strange life when a 7th grader asks you if you have another ‘legit’ job, but it's incredibly rewarding when by the end of the program they've learned a little bit more about themselves and the world around them.” Amy, Harrisburg, VA

“I find that the outdoors allows youth a space where they want to learn, rather than where they are made to learn.” – Mary Beth, Boulder, CO

“It’s the opportunity to make a wildly beautiful and remote place my home. Then share it with an awesome group of people.” – Nolan, Pinkham, NH

My answer: Each day I get to look at the world through my students’ eyes. Each day I am seeing a new perspective, and experiencing the world as though for the first time. My job takes me away from the screens of technology to experience the world with all five senses – feeling heavy snowflakes landing on my eyelashes, sliding down the trail on cross country skis, uncovering bugs and plant and animal life I haven’t seen before. Every day I witness my students’ realization of the intrinsic value of our natural world. It is, after all, about perspective and our mission as outdoor educators and students of life is to understand as many viewpoints as possible to make the world a more compassionate, forgiving, and FUN place for all living things.