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Bringing it All Back Home

Let me begin by expressing my deep gratitude for the opportunity Alcoa has provided me for attending the Key Issues Institute in Keystone, Colorado last July. It was a wonderful learning experience that has provided me with ideas about how to reach my students in a more real world context. I have come back with a different way of looking at the environmental health of our own community and a process to initiate a positive change.

AVC Olewine Alcoa TarankoCurrently, my students are working on a proposal to team with Duck Lake State Park to tackle some of the environmental issues facing the park. The ideas have come from our participation in the Alliance for the Great Lakes Beach Sweep back in September at the park. Based on our data collection and a guided tour, the students have chosen trash and recycling and non-native species of plants. We are currently researching these issues and have begun reaching out to community resources for information and assistance.

Future plans include expanding the project into other curricular areas using student presentations and writing letters to community groups for language arts, mapping and measuring the park trails for math, and researching the history of the park and surrounding area to create informational signs for language arts and social studies. This project has been able to get off the ground with the help from Jan Klco, our History Day coach, and Robb Zoellmer, a state park staff member. I will also be presenting a summary of our project next March at the Michigan Science Teachers Association State Conference in Lansing.

Again, thank you for the opportunity to attend the Key Issues Institute.

Derek Taranko is an educator from Whitehall, Michigan, and attended Key Issues Institute in 2013 with sponsorship from Alcoa.

HPG Goes Pro

In a move that has surprised marketing execs at the elite outdoor retailer, Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard decided to make the Hot Pink Gorilla the new “face of Patagonia.”
Dmitri Siegel, Executive Creative Director at Patagonia explains, “He’s just got the right attitude for our company. …He right? Is it a he? Or is it a she? Whatever… I mean, just look at him. …Or her or whatever. A PINK GORILLA repelling off the face of a cliff! It doesn’t get more extreme than that. And THAT’S what Patagonia is all about.”

HPGAt KSS we couldn’t be more proud of our HPG. The last year has been one of intense training – hours at the climbing gym and sending impossible routes from Yosemite to Ouray.

In an interview with Climbing magazine, HPG said, “I’ll never forget the amazing people at KSS who took care of me, taught me to gather nuts and berries, brushed the twigs out of my fur, and loaned me deodorant when I smelled bad. That’s real love, man.”

Awww shucks, HPG. You know we love you. And we're keeping a corner of the boot shed clear for you when you come visit.


Happy April Fools, everyone!

Planning KMA: Great Sand Dunes National Park

A hidden gem amidst the Rocky Mountain Range, The Great Sand Dunes National Park is a paradise of diverse microhabitats from desolate desert to alpine ridges.

Sand Dunes

This summer, Keystone Mountain Adventures (KMA) will dive into this amazing landscape during our 13-day Research Focus trip. When planning this trip I thought to myself, What teenager would want to spend their summer doing research? The many experiences that comprise this program make it much more than a simple research project. In many schools today there can be a disconnect between classroom education and real-world application, due to an entirely indoor classroom or lab setting. At its very essence, science is the study of the world around us and students rarely have the chance to experience that world indoors. Although classrooms offer a more organized and fundamental take on science, the research involved in this trip will give teenagers the chance to get dirty and experience the kind of science that field researchers do in their careers every day.

We designed Keystone Mountain Adventures to be so much more than a research trip. It’s the backpacking trip of a lifetime, a white water rafting adventure, a chance to challenge yourself with rock climbing, and finally soaking it all in at the beautiful river-side pools at Princeton Hot Springs.

I have led multiple trips for Keystone Science School, but have never been more excited than I am for this one. Not only do these teenagers grow more confident and independent, but they also become smarter, more balanced individuals in every aspect. Unknowingly, even to myself on my first trip, campers all become a part of a new family of peers that can only be found on an adventure like this.  The magic that happens on these trips that can never be explained, only experienced.

What a difference a dollar makes

3182014 Schoolership group

We work hard to create memorable experiences for our students. It is a collaborative effort from not only our staff but also our funders. The letter below is a passionate declaration from classroom teacher Jaime Baker of Welby Montessori, to a funder who provided a Schoolership that allowed her students to experience a KSS School Program. I feel her letter does a great job of describing the impact KSS can have on students.  

"Thank you so much for your generous donation to sponsor our students at Keystone Science School. Our students come from severely impacted backgrounds that limit their ability to experience the outdoors and science together. Many of the fifth graders who came to Keystone with us had never been in the mountains before. It was an amazing experience for them and they learned about themselves as well as about science during our trip.

The experience increased their self-confidence and built stronger relationships among them and with us, their teachers. They learned that they can try new experiences and have fun figuring it out. I know that this experience is one that my students will never forget. It is a positive memory and experience that will remind them that learning can be fun."

Jaime Baker
Welby Montessori3182014 Mtn Embrace

Snow Day

It was a Thursday and it was a whiteout – one of the first major snowfalls of the season. Big, fat flakes fell heavy and thick and I thought for sure the School Programs instructors would cancel the hike planned for the day. Silly me. We layered up, packed our lunches, filled our water bottles and piled into vans. My group headed to Montezuma to hike the road leading up to Saints John. The snow was already 10 inches deep and still falling as we parked and began our 3 mile hike with close to 1,000ft of elevation gain. The students stopped every so often to slide down hills or flop down to make snow angels. At lunch we jumped up and down, ran around, and played games to keep warm as the snow piled up on our shoulders and soaked into our sandwiches.

3.11.14 SP field dayWe stopped at overlooks and old mines with the rocky peaks towering above us for lessons in geomorphology – the kids were learning about plate tectonics, rock layers, and other earth science principles. Our fearless school programs instructor, Rachel Zacher, kept the students engaged by making the lessons fun and inclusive. She had a practically magical way of dispelling whining by empowering rather than chastising the kids. She showed them that they had all the tools and skills they needed to take care of themselves and to my amazement they all rose to the challenge.

By the end of the hike I’d relearned a lot about the planet I call home, made some friends, and realized how amazing KSS really is. More than anything I came home that day with a buzz and excitement, not just about my job, but about life in general. I had that satisfying exhaustion that comes from trudging through deep snow for hours. I’d spent a day outside laughing and running and playing and focusing on how beautiful these mountains can be blanketed in fresh snow.