Keystone Science School celebrates 40th anniversary |

Keystone Science School celebrates 40th anniversary

Keystone Science School instructors led students on a "field day" cross-country skiing expedition on Thursday.
Elise Reuter / |

by the numbers

40 acres: the size of the original KSS campus.

3,500 students KSS hoped to reach across the U.S. in its first five years.

1 program worked to unite Police Officers and Youth in late 80s

2 dorms built in 1989

1 dining hall built in 1980

5 executive directors

8 years running Elder Hostel groups

3 successful capital campaigns that helped expand Rives Dining Hall, built the Yurt and the Observatory as well as the Launch Pad and the Thermal Field.

7,092 youth and adults impacted in 2015, including 980 campers, 4,782 children and teachers who participated in School Programs, and 1,233 children and adults reached by Community Programs

The group of students trekked up Miners Creek Trail in Frisco, slipping and sliding in their cross-country skis and occasionally stopping to observe their surroundings — mining ruins, avalanche chutes and the reservoir downhill.

The group of fourth-graders is just one of many participating in a three-day workshop through the Keystone Science School, with instructors guiding children through the scientific method by encouraging them to complete the statements, “I notice, I wonder and this reminds me of …”

“They are so excited, and they want to ask so many questions,” said Rachel Ackerman, an instructor with Keystone Science School. “We want them to bring up what they’re seeing and ask questions about it.”

She worked as a teacher in Denver for three years, before moving out to join Keystone Science School last summer. On Thursday, she guided a group of fourth graders from Castle Rock, discussing disturbances in the environment and the effects of mining and mountain pine beetles. One student commented on how the lesson tied into a reading of “The Lorax” from earlier that day.

Observing the avalanche chute over the remains of Masontown, the children talked about what could have potentially triggered the avalanche.

“They never cease to amaze me,” she said.


The Keystone Science School is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, after Robert Craig founded the school in 1976 as the Keystone Environmental Education Center.

“We made it 40 years with community support,” executive director Ellen Reid said. “We’re so grateful to have been able to contribute to the community, to have been in this supportive environment.”

With support from several local organizations, including Vail Resorts’ EpicPromise Foundation, the Summit School District, the Rotary Club and the Copper Environmental Fund, she noted the support was critical in helping fund existing programs and provide scholarships for students.

“They’ve dug deep,” she said. “They’re helping us fix things, helping with events and donating.”

Asa Armstrong, marketing and development director for Keystone Science School, said the nonprofit had started an endowment fund through The Summit Foundation in December.

“We just kicked off the endowment fund to make sure we’re here in perpetuity,” she said. “We’re trying to reach $400,000 this year.”

Since its inception, the school has created several new programs catered to a variety of students, anywhere from the ages of early elementary to college. The school launched its Girls in STEM program last year, which is designed to engage young girls in science education, and is now expanding the program to Denver.

The school also offers a summer camp every year and assists teachers in taking a hands-on, inquiry-based approach to teaching. In addition, Keystone Science School offers after-school programs for the local community, including the newly-created Summer CATCH Camp, to promote healthy activities and provide nutritional information for elementary students after school.

“We help prepare future leaders at the Science School,” Armstrong added.

She recalled one year when a former student visited, who was looking to go on a yearlong youth exchange after having built confidence at camp.

“It was so exciting to see everything come full circle,” she added. “It’s amazing to me to see our instructors or camp counselors, the way they inspire kids to have respect for themselves and each other.”


On March 18, Keystone Science School will host a 40th anniversary celebration, with activities for kids, food, music and a program for adults as well. The event will be hosted at Rives Dining Hall at the school’s campus, from 4–6 p.m. To RSVP to the event, contact Brenda Davidson at

The Hot Pink Gorilla, a character used to represent scientific inquiry at the Keystone Science School lessons, will also be making an appearance around the county in honor of the 40th anniversary.

“That’s the goal, to think about the real habits of animals,” Reid explained. “If you want to find something, how do you go about finding out if or if not it’s real?”

With a printable version of the Hot Pink Gorilla available online, she said she hoped to see it make an appearance around the world.

Last year alone, the school reached more than 7,000 youth and adults, between campers, teachers and students.

“It’s just reached so many people,” Dave Miller, director of education and program sustainability said. “Somebody ran over to me in the airport and said their kids went to the Science School. So many people have been touched by their time at the Science School.”

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