Helping Hands: Keystone Science School teaches leadership through science
Today’s youth are the leaders of tomorrow. To help cultivate that leadership, the Keystone Science School was founded in 1976 to teach our future leaders how to negotiate, mediate and look at contentious issues from all angles. The school teaches scientific principles and leadership skills to young people, teachers and community members through engaging, hands-on field experiences. Robert W. Craig founded the Keystone Center in 1975 to bring together public, private and civic leaders to deal with society’s most challenging environmental, energy and public health problems. Realizing that continued change could be made through youth, he opened the science school a year later. The school is now celebrating 35 years of preparing future leaders to address society’s complex issues through staying as non-biased as possible. The science school teaches year-round through school programs, summer camps, community and group programs. During the school year, classes spend a few days at the school to learn about a field program of their choice. Themes include forest ecology, snow science, space science, aquatic ecology, earth science and environmental issues. Students are lead into the field – like snowshoeing to a remote location to dig snow pits and use scientific tools to collect data – as a setting for the introduction and analysis of scientific methods.
Ellen Reid, director at the Keystone Science School, said the program brings excitement to science. “If we were to have a tag line, it would be ‘science, adventure and fun,'” she said. “We really try to take all three of those pieces and incorporate them into everything we do. Its a way to make science come alive for kids.” Reid said classes can mix different themes – and incorporate other lessons like team-building – to customize their experience. “We pride ourselves on being flexible and creating programs that really work for the schools,” she said. Reid said all programs are aligned with state and national standards. During the summer, the school offers a day camp and a week-long, overnight camp program. Depending on the theme, Joel Egbert, camp director at the Keystone Science School, said participants might go hiking and check out wildlife tracks or pine beetle damage, or head to old mining sites around the county to study the geology of the area. He said campers spend time sharing their feelings with each other through “candle chats,” and get creative by painting murals or tie-dying shirts. Reid said while students and campers are learning science and team-building lessons, they’re building relationships and self-esteem that helps with the development of their characters. She recently spoke with a woman who interned at the camp in 1976 and still carries fond memories of her experience.
Sue Wilcox’s two children have attended both the day camp and week-long programs for years. “They love the science school,” she said. “It’s really fun. It’s a very safe environment to learn.”Wilcox said she especially likes the school because its programs embrace both the intellectual and emotional development of children. She said counselors and teachers are all very comforting to kids, and deal very well with issues like homesickness. “I feel very comfortable as a parent sending my children there,” she said. Wilcox said her daughter Mary, 10, loves the science lessons and her son Billy, 13, plans to return to the camp as a junior counselor. Egbert said in the last few years, about 80 percent of campers are returning participants. He said there’s been almost a 450 percent increase in the number of campers in the last four years, which is about 200 new kids a summer. He said the school tries to incorporate new activities each year to keep everything fresh. “It should feel the same, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be the same,” he said. “We’re really pushing the boundaries on what curriculum we can do.”He said this summer is the first where “adventure options” will be offered. Kids and parents can choose from sailing, horseback riding and whitewater rafting. As a nonprofit organization, the school relies on donations and help from volunteers. Their Schoolership Fund provides money to send entire classrooms during the school year, and their Campership Fund provides full or partial scholarships to send individuals to the camp programs. Egbert said the school is currently trying to expand its demographic by reaching out to the Hispanic community. “We all believe every child deserves camp,” Reid said. “We try to offset the cost by offering scholarships and discounts when we can.” The school accommodates everyone ages five and up. Besides the school and camp programs, community and group programs are also available to the community. The school offers studies of mountain ecosystems, wilderness travel and astronomy and can create custom programs for colleges, conferences, family reunions and other groups.
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