Keystone Science School lifts off for summer
summit daily news
It’s rare to find kids willing to spend part of their precious summer learning about nature. But the campers at Keystone Science School are giving up months of freedom to go to summer school, and they’re having a blast doing it.
“Dude, I like doing this, don’t you?” one camper said as he sprinted across the KSS campus, located next to the Keystone Stables. “That was so much fun!” said another.
The two campers looked like they had just run head-first into a Jackson Pollock painting. Their faces were covered with several different hues of fluorescent paint, a gift from some of the counselors. The counselors had even more paint on them than the kids did; they were painted and dressed up to resemble different mountain plants, weeds and, of course, Mother Nature herself.
It’s all part of a new activity at KSS called “Flower Power,” a cross between tag and capture the flag with a dash of Discovery Channel thrown in for good measure. The kids had to find the “flowers,” get some basic facts on them and race back to “Mother Nature” to get the resources for the plants’ survival, all the while dodging the attacks of the “weeds.”
Joel Egbert, one of the KSS camp directors, said Flower Power is just another day at KSS and that the staff has just as much fun as the kids, if not more.
“Not many jobs give you the opportunity to create a world,” he said. “Kids deserve to have magic, they really do.”
Egbert said the camp’s three core principles of science, adventure and fun are what make it unique and keep kids coming back. On the science front, each summer has a different scientific theme along with a weekly mini-theme the counselors integrate into their daily lesson plans and activities.
“There are great camps out here, but they hold onto more tradition than they need to,” Egbert said. “We’re very progressive. We look for ways to really connect to science.”
The KSS staff prefers an active approach to teaching instead of delivering Al Gore-style lectures. On Tuesday, the counselors took the campers on an EarthTrack hike to get them out into nature. As they hiked through the woods, the counselors worked subtle lessons into different activities like a scavenger hunt and a “who am I?” game. The crowning moment came when a counselor had the campers hold a criss-crossing string to demonstrate how a food web works and how different plants and animals depend on one another. When the camper who was holding the end that represented the sun dropped his section, the whole web collapsed.
“You’re the most important one!” one camper said to the sun. “I know, I already said that,” the offended sun replied.
This active approach to learn seems to be working since kids keep going back to the camp. Joel Egbert’s brother Jordan, another staff member at KSS, said 70 to 80 percent of the campers are returnees from previous years. He added that many of the kids sign up for four to six weeks at a time.
“It gets to the point where the returning kids are teaching the other kids,” Jordan Egbert said.
The Egberts said they were drawn to KSS for both “selfish and selfless reasons.” The selfish reason is spending time in the mountains and participating in all the outdoor activities, the selfless one is working with the kids. It’s these relationships that keep them going summer after summer.
“These kids give you the same experience you give them,” Jordan Egbert said.
To find out more about the Keystone Science School, go to http://www.keystone.org/cfe/kss
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