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Give Where You Live

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We are so pleased to be a part of Colorado Gives Day this year. Colorado Gives Day is an annual statewide movement to celebrate and increase philanthrophy in Colorado through online giving. This is our first year participating as an independent nonprofit and we are so grateful for all the support we have already received. 

Witnessing the Impact of KSS from All Sides

hollenbeck blog

My experience at KSS began in 5th grade when I came with my Breckenridge Elementary class for a three-day snow science program. I have very fond memories of the trip from sleeping in the Bighorn dorm, to cross country skiing across a very large field (though it doesn’t look so large anymore), and digging snow pits to look at snow crystals.

Twelve years later I started my career in education as a middle school classroom science teacher. When I began my job I was told that I would be in charge of leading the outdoor education program for the 6th grade. Without hesitation, I immediately chose to bring my class to the place where I built such wonderful memories, Keystone Science School. Our first School Programs was phenomenal; many of my students had never been out of the city before and spent time hiking around in the mountains. The stories they brought back to their families and friends at school were ones of excitement, hope, and joy. I listened to my students tell stories of new friendships, challenges that they overcame, and memories they shared up in the mountains.

The following year, I was excited to take my new 6th grade class back to KSS. This class was made up of some of the sweetest kids I had ever met, but with a different class comes different dynamics and a different set of behavioral and academic needs. But there was one student in particular who continues to inspire me every day as a KSS instructor. This student was in the 6th grade, but read and wrote at a 1st and 2nd grade level. He rarely participated in class and preferred not to work with his peers. He was defiant to his teachers and often had angry outbursts which would send him out of school. He did not spend time with many other students in his class. He refused to write and was rarely prepared for class. While he clearly did not enjoy being at school, he still wanted to be a class helper, but didn’t know how.

Other faculty were worried about sending this student to KSS in fear of him exhibiting any of these mentioned behaviors. At the last minute, it was agreed upon that he would come and that he would be in my field group. We met our instructor and set off for the day into the woods, and what I observed for the next three days still brings tears to my eyes. When asked to take out his pencil, he took out one for himself and enough for everybody in the group. This boy raised his hand to respond to every question and had many questions of his own about the natural world around him. He not only came prepared with his own gear, but with extra gear for some others in the group. Other students started to speak with him and joke around with him. As this student started to interact more and more with the group, the other students started to warm up to him and to form friendly relationships with him. When asked to sit in the woods for eight minutes to make observations, he sat and drew well beyond the time allotted. He was a different student. He was happy to be learning, anxious to participate, friendly with his peers, and exhibited responsibility. Despite all of these wonderful observations however, what happened next was absolutely amazing.

After arriving back at the school, I had the students spend the first 10 minutes of class drawing a picture of their favorite memory. Typically, this student would sit at his desk and pretend to be marking with his pencil. But I noticed that this time he was actually drawing, so I did a quick pass and I noticed he was drawing our whole group on our hike in the forest, getting stuck in the snow, with lots of happy faces. After discussing the trip I assigned the last 20 minutes of the class period for the students to write about their experiences. Typically I would need to be sitting with this student, urging him to write, and we would be lucky if just a couple sentences would get down on the page before his defiance would kick in. But this time, it was different. This time, I didn’t have to go over and sit with him. In fact, I just sat at my desk and watched. I watched his hand madly move across his page. I watched him write and write and write, for twenty minutes! After class all the students turned in their writing and when I saw his, I felt a tear fall down my cheek. He had written an entire page with no outside help, and the first sentence read, “the camp of Keystone is a great camp. I love it.”

This wonderful place inspired this student to do something he hadn’t been successful at all school year. This is why I work at Keystone Science School. This place is magical and it is the source of many positive memories for kids of all ages and backgrounds. All of my students had an amazing experience at KSS, but the story of this one student is the reason why I know I belong here. This place changes lives, it inspires learners, it teaches to protect our natural world, and it brings joy to so many faces every day. And for this particular little boy, the Keystone Science School gave him a new perspective on life, a push in the right direction, and most importantly a big smile on his face.

Making History with Water


On November 12th, Keystone Science School was scheduled to run our annual H2O Outdoors program, an exciting grant-funded program for High School students made possible through key partnerships with Denver Water, Aurora Water, and the Colorado River District. Students from around the state applied to the program and, once accepted, were invited to come to our campus free of charge to learn about the complex water issues facing Colorado and the Colorado River Basin. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately for the Colorado River, 18 inches of snow derailed our plans and forced the cancelation of this program. So today we wanted to share the above video with you to illustrate the truly inspiring reason that we run this program each year and the kind of collaboration that we hope to inspire in everyone who participates. 

The culminating event for the H2O Outdoors program is a classic element available for many of the academic programs we offer at Keystone Science School, a Town Hall Meeting. During this Town Hall Meeting, the Science School instructors take a step back and allow the students to propose projects/compromises/ideas to make a positive impact on the various issues that they have learned about.

It was an especially exciting year to be running the H2O Outdoors program because, as this video from the Sonoran Institute shows, actual collaborative meetings (similar to our Town Hall Meetings), have resulted in an exciting ecological victory/experiment. In the Spring of 2014, for the first time in almost 50 years, the Colorado River reached the Gulf of California.

Additionally, Colorado is in the process of drafting a State Water Plan, due on the Governors desk by December 2015. Roundtable meetings and opportunities for public input will continue to be held over the next year as the Water Plan takes shape. Collaboration, compromise, and an understanding of the complexities of water related issues will be key to creating a comprehensive and successful Water Plan.

While it's sometimes easy to get frustrated with today's political climate and grid-lock, seeing these real-world collaborations being carried out across the state, nation, and international borders might be a source for optimism. For me anyway, it gives affirmation that what we do at the Science School (teaching about the facts, illuminating complexities, and facilitating Town Hall Meetings with collaboration as a core tenet), has real-world application and value.

As of now it is unknown whether H2O Outdoors 2014 can be rescheduled. While I am disappointed for the missed opportunity to connect with the students who applied for the program, I am looking forward to the winter/spring teaching seasons and continuing to explore these topics with students at the Science School.

Surrounded by Wildlife

moose on campus2

A couple of weeks ago, a young bull moose wandered onto our campus. Most of the staff and instructors were delighted as we tracked the moose’s journey around campus. It got me thinking about the chance circumstances of seeing wildlife. It’s a fairly rare occasion when we take students on hikes because of the loudness of a gaggle of duckling children following one another in a line. But I know they're still out there. All in all, how lucky are we when we see a unique animal in the wild?

While reading A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson, I came across this quote, "According to a wildlife census by an ecologist at the University of Illinois named V. E. Shelford, a typical ten-square-mile block of eastern American forest holds almost 300,000 mammals—220,000 mice and other small rodents, 63,500 squirrels and chipmunks, 470 deer, 30 foxes, and 5 black bears.”

So what is the ratio like in Colorado? Here are some of my very amateur calculations based on 2013 population estimates from Colorado Parks and Wildlife. In a typical ten-square-mile (10 miles by 10 miles) block of Colorado forest there are:
45 bears
1,025 deer
693 elk
6 moose
4 mountain goats
18 Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep

Based on these numbers it seems amazing that we don’t run into animals more often! So walk softly and keep your eyes open to see some truly fantastic creatures.

'Tis the Season of Giving

The holiday season is almost here and it feels like my mailbox gets filled every day with catalogues, campaign material, and charitable solicitations. 'Tis the season of giving and voting after all! I already voted, so now I suppose it's time I think about giving. My favorite, and the easiest, way to give is through automatic deductions from my paycheck. Just like my contributions to my 401k, IRA, and savings accounts, this is a fool-proof way to ensure that I'm supporting the organizations I care about most. 

One way to arrange for these payroll deductions is through our partnership with Community Shares of Colorado, a nonprofit organization that facilitates workplace giving at hundreds of businesses in Colorado. Keystone Science School has been fortunate to be a part of Community Shares for many years. Not only is Community Shares a great organization and an important fundraising partner for KSS, they brought us into their community - a network of nonprofits helping each other grow and prosper. It's such a great group of people! Just watch the video, I know you'll agree. 

If you're interested in participating in workplace giving or want to get your company involved, start here. Whether you give to Keystone Science School or any of the other incredible nonprofits in Colorado, your giving is appreciated. At KSS we support and appreciate philanthropy - in all its forms.