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.