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'We just do all these experiments': Keystone school takes fun approach to science and outdoors

The year-round series of camps focus on outdoor education through scientific principles.

KEYSTONE, Colo. — The Keystone Science School (KSS) in Summit County is celebrating 45 years of bringing outdoor science education to its students. The 23-acre campus was started in 1976 by Robert W. Craig.

The year-round series of traditional day camps, overnight camps, discovery adventures, and expeditions focus on teaching scientific principles and leadership skills to students from Colorado and around the world.

“In a typical year, we see more than 8,000 young people through our doors annually,” said Executive Director Ellen Reid. “The programs that we do really center around inspiring curiosity and critical thinking, building character, understanding ourselves a little bit better all framed around using the lens of science.”

Credit: Keystone Science School

According to the school, the non-profit was created to teach science through a variety of STEM-based and hands-on learning programs to help develop critical thinking for their campers. They also want to increase their social emotional learning through activities like cross-country skiing, hiking, and outdoor living.

“Whether it’s through a day camp or whether it’s through a backpacking for five days kind of program, we want to make sure folks have different opportunities to engage and learn in the way that we believe is important through critical thinking,” Reid said.

Credit: Keystone Science School

The school teaches a variety of field-based science programs like weather and climate, aquatic ecology, and Earth science.

“We just do all these experiments and it’s just fun,” said 7-year-old Norah Huff. “I’ve been hiking, I’ve been doing crafts, I’ve been just having fun.”

Credit: Keystone Science School

This year, the school was limited in its capacity due to COVID protocols, but Reid said she still wants her students to learn not only about science but themselves. She believes that getting reunited with each other and the outdoors are critical components of trying to get back to normal.

“Parents are saying ‘It’s so good to see my child interacting with friends again,” Reid said. “Now that we’re able to re-connect in person, getting into environments that kind of challenge us and also build relationships a little bit differently really can add a dimension to a class that you just don’t get by being in a classroom.”

Credit: Byron Reed

School leaders said they want to get students interested in science in the county known as “Colorado’s Playground” so they can have a greater appreciation for the outdoors.

“The idea of being out in nature…sometimes it challenges you,” Reid said. “You might be uncomfortable, but we want folks to walk away going ‘wow, I learned something about myself too.’”

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