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Keystone instructor instills a love of science

LORY POUNDER
summit daily news
Summit County, CO Colorado
Summit Daily/Mark Fox
ALL |

KEYSTONE ” “Rounds,” the fifth grader screamed with a smile, pointing at one of her classmates who stood in a circle around her. In response, the child quickly grabbed the two next to him and huddled tightly together.

So, the little girl tried again. “Facets,” she said, this time targeting a new peer who thwarted her attempt to get out of the middle of circle by puffing up with the two next to her.

Throughout the morning game ” Icity, Ice, Ice, Ice ” the children laughed and their excitement grew. All the while, what they didn’t realize was that they were learning. Their faces lit up a few minutes later when they sat in Taylor cabin at Keystone Science School learning that rounds are a type of snow grains that are small and tightly bonded and facets are large with weak bonds.

Lori Van Broekhoven, program manager at the school, was their teacher for the three days the fifth graders from Friends’ School in Boulder spent this week gaining a new love of science. In less than 24 hours, she knew the names of all nine students in her group. She had the dynamics of the group figured out. And the children’s teacher described Van Broekhoven as “a born teacher.”

“I think the best moments for me are when the kids really connect with the place,” she said. “The little explosions of ‘wow.'”

Zoe Benson, a fifth grader at Friends’ School, was one of those students.

“It’s my favorite way to learn science for sure,” she said before she and her team finished getting ready to head out to the Miners Creek trail to cross country ski and learn about snow science, avalanche danger. Zoe has gone on an annual trip to the school since she was in second grade, she said, adding that last year her team studied wolves and the year before that they learned about mining.

“You remember the whole trip so you remember what you learned,” Zoe said with a smile.

Amazingly, it wasn’t until Van Broekhoven’s last semester in college that she discovered a passion for science. She graduated from Emory University in Atlanta with a degree in creative writing, but an environmental science class she took during her last semester had a lasting impression.

After graduating, she worked for AmeriCorps at a high school in Bishop, Calif. There, she designed and ran a community service program and worked for the outdoor science school. It was only open for one month out of the year, but Van Broekhoven was “completely hooked,” she said. The experience left her wanting more, so she sought a year-round science school. Through friends, she heard about Keystone.

It has been three years since she first arrived, and now she spends about half her time as a field instructor and half time in administration. She loves the diversity of her days, which change with school groups. She teaches most ages and each school customizes their science lessons based on what they are hoping to gain from the experience.

Additionally, the field instructors are constantly researching, expanding their knowledge and modifying, adapting curriculum, she said.

“I get to be outside with kids everyday,” Van Broekhoven said. “I really can’t imagine anything more fun and rewarding. … I am one of the few people I know who wakes up psyched to go to work.”

On the science school campus, she lives in a cabin built in 1880 that still lacks running water. She describes it as cute and simple.

“Our staff is definitely a family,” Van Broekhoven said. “We live together. We work together.”

In the winter, snow science usually takes a main role in science lessons. Forest ecology, geology, water ecology and astronomy are a few of the other science lessons throughout the year at the school that draws second through 12th graders from throughout the county, state and country.

Tuesday, the fifth graders from Boulder became science explorers for the day that included digging a snow pit, cross country skiing on the Miners Creek trail in Frisco, activities and journaling.

After Van Broekhoven passed out a series of tools the students would use in their snow pit, she let them go to work, figuring out how the items like a paint brush, colored tongue depressors, extendable ruler, meat thermometer and more would help them determine avalanche danger.

The children’s teacher, Lois Sandusky, who has been bringing her classes to Keystone Science School for 11 years, watched with a smile and commented that that was “excellent teaching.” Not only do the children learn, but the three days at the school is professional development time for teachers as well, because they learn from the field instructors’ techniques, she added.

“It’s like watching opera with children, she’s so good,” Sandusky said about Van Broekhoven. “She brings out the best in children.”

She sets up an avenue of discovery, which is the best way for them to learn, she continued. Also, “they’re different for the rest of the school year,” Sandusky said, adding that they gain social emotional depth. “The interact more like a community because of having been here.”

Fifth grader Trevor Simmons said that science school is “an incredible experience.” He learned “what you wouldn’t find in your average library,” he said.


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