Keystone Science School connects Summit County kids to their backyard |

Keystone Science School connects Summit County kids to their backyard

Summit Daily/Mark Fox

KEYSTONE – Summit County’s third-graders are enthusiastically learning about nature – flowers, rocks, critters and trees.

“We’ve been hiking and looking at plants,” said Caitlin Miles, a Silverthorne third-grader. “I saw purple flowers and I saw a beaver lodge.”

With the program in its sixth year, Keystone Science School staff are creatively connecting all local third-graders to their backyard through lessons, both in the classroom and outdoors.

Caitlin, along with nine other classmates, explored the trails winding around the Keystone Science School Tuesday. They observed berries, pine cones, ice on top of the water, trees – various elements of nature and how they fit together.

The kids were part of a group including 60-plus Silverthorne Elementary School students visiting Keystone Science School for the day.

“We’re focused on connectiveness,” said program leader Dave Miller. “How is this tree connected to the stream, the sun and humans? … It’s exploratory – if they (the students) walk away knowing a tree is a pine, it’s a success.”

Funded by Vail Resorts ECHO, senior charitable contributions director Nicky DeFord said the third-grade program is “a critical component for kids’ development.” Through the effort, all Summit County third-graders – 285 of them – are able to get out of the classroom to learn about local nature.

“It’s the perfect moment to introduce the kids to the environment,” she added. ” … It’s one of our main programs in Summit County.”

Silverthorne’s third-grade teacher Jamie Levy agreed, saying the program was great for the kids.

“There’s lots of kids at school who wouldn’t necessarily have the opportunity to go to the Keystone Science School or go on a hike,” Levy said. “It’s a big life event.”

One thing was for certain: Caitlin and her classmates weren’t short on enthusiasm.

Max Duxbury said he liked seeing a “nursing log” – “It has enough nutrients to grow other things on it,” he explained.

And when Nick Kubes was peering at the stream, he shouted: “I see lots and lots and lots of fish!”

What is the Keystone Science School?

The Keystone Science School was formed by the Keystone Center, a local organization working to “solve society’s most challenging environmental, energy and public health problems.”

According to Miller, the school was created as part of the center’s big vision to work with leaders of today and tomorrow.

Students are able to visit the school for both day and overnight trips, and its staff teaches them about environmental issues such as the mountain pine beetle.

Vail Resorts started funding the third-grade program six years ago, and now it fully supports the effort to teach all Summit County third-graders about their local environment.

“It combines an important community element with environmental stewardship,” DeFord said. “It teaches kids at a young age that this is their backyard and they should take care of it.”

A new component to the program has Keystone Science School staffers traveling to the elementary schools before the field trip to conduct classroom learning exercises.

“That’s been such a fun addition,” Miller said.

Caitlin Row can be reached at (970) 668-4633 or at

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