Dark Canyon Fall Outdoor Ed

The seventh and eighth grade class headed to Dark Canyon in late September for a five-day backpacking trip.  Dark Canyon, considered by many to be one of Utah’s most beautiful and least visited canyon systems, was their home and classroom for five days of integrated field studies. During that time, the class explored the canyon’s rim for evidence of Anasazi and studied the geology of the 300 million year old limestone that formed the walls of their temporary home.  Days were filled with gorgeous hikes, lessons on using the natural world in writing, navigation, stove use, and ecology. Nights were dedicated to journaling in the tents by headlamp, reading stories around a campfire, and stargazing.

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According to trip leaders Emily and Andy Shoff and Cassie Bishop, some of the best lessons emerged from the singular moments. For example, when the students broke into small groups and navigated their way out of the canyon by headlamp, they learned first-hand skills like communication, conflict resolution, and pacing.

Associate Head of School Andy Shoff, who has led eight school trips down into Dark Canyon, says the canyon provides an opportunity for students to work together as a team to take care of their basic needs of food, water, shelter, and companionship. “But moreover, it is a spectacular canyon that every student should experience.”

Written by Emily Shoff

Stargazing and Tomboy!

This fall the first and second grade students embarked on an overnight adventure that included stargazing, an in-school sleepover and an exciting jeep trip to the town of Tomboy!

Every year on this trip, students gain experience with outdoor education through a sleepover and local history tour. This fall trip also set the tone for our Ski P.E. program as well as our spring outdoor education trip by providing students the opportunity to practice responsibility with gear and packing appropriate clothing.

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Additionally, the fall trip incorporated science and social studies units for the first trimester. First and second graders learned to use an high powered telescope with a local astronomer guide to build on their universe studies of galaxies, stars, and the solar system.

The jeep tour to the town of Tomboy allowed students to apply their studies of Telluride history and the mining roots of a historical western town.

Finally, the fall outdoor trip provided first and second grader students with a growth experience where friendships with both teachers and classmates were strengthened.

-Jordan Burlison
1st and 2nd Grade Teacher

5th & 6th Grade Students to Monitor Falcon Population

A group of slightly nervous fifth- and sixth-grade student scientists from Telluride Mountain School (TMS) gave a presentation to Telluride’s Open Space Commission on Monday afternoon regarding an initiative to collect data about the American kestrel, a long-tailed falcon.

The project was approved unanimously. It involves constructing, and then placing, several falcon nesting-boxes along the Valley Floor.

The students intend to monitor the boxes. The data they glean by counting eggs and observing nesting behavior will be forwarded to the American Kestrel Partnership, an Idaho-based organization that consists of more than 600 partners who are tracking similar data, according to the group’s website, “from Alaska to Argentina.”

Breezy and Charlotte

The American kestrel is the smallest bird of prey in North America. Although these raptors are “historically common,” Sarah Schulwitz, director of the American Kestrel Partnership, said that they have been steadily declining since the 1960s.

Scientists aren’t sure why.

But student scientists, like the ones from TMS, could help solve the mystery. Using data collected from TMS and partners from around the world, “We can start to identify trends (that) we hope leads to a greater understanding of what may be causing” the falcons to disappear, Schulwitz said.

At the meeting, several students explained the importance of the project to commission members.

“Kestrel falcons are declining rapidly, and one of the reasons we are focusing so much on trying to save them is because we know from other research projects that we can save them,” said Jula Cieciuch, a TMS student.

Cieciuch explained that in the 1990s, another bird of prey, the peregrine falcon, was on the endangered species list. Through data collection, researchers were able to determine that the birds’ eggs were being compromised by chemicals sprayed on farmers’ crops. The discovery helped scientists to plan preservation efforts.

“We are hoping that if we do this project, we can find some research and help save the kestrels,” Cieciuch said. “We think that researching them here with these nesting boxes could be an essential part of finding out what is happening to them.”

Another student, Shai Ann Kanow, vouched for the location of the Valley Floor as prime real estate for the project.

“The human population keeps growing and growing and that is causing a lot of animals to be pushed out of their natural habitats. The American kestrel is definitely one of those animals,” she said. “The Valley Floor was made for animals like this so that they could be healthier and safer.”

As to the boxes themselves, TMS student Booker O’Dell assured board members, “You won’t even notice them at all.” The boxes will be affixed to trees and light posts.

Commission members remarked that the project was a good example of citizen science and approved the initiative with conditions.

Lance McDonald, program director for the Town of Telluride, asked that the students provide a monitoring schedule and template for the boxes; allow town staff to determine the ultimate locale of the boxes; and offer town officials an annual report of activities relating to the study, as well as results. He also recommended that the commission and the school reevaluate the program in three years to determine whether it should continue.

Ben Gardner, the TMS teacher leading the project, said he was proud of the students.

“I thought they were wonderful,” he said. “There were a lot of nerves, but at the same time, these kids are so used to public speaking, and in the right environment, doing real life learning inspires students to go above and beyond.”

In an interview with the Daily Planet after the meeting, Cieciuch said that while she was anxious about making her presentation, she felt prepared.

“I was really nervous, but I think I did better than what I thought I would do,” she said. Now, “I am really excited to meet Sarah (Schulwitz), and am also really excited to start building these boxes.”

Schulwitz will be making a presentation on the American kestrel to students at the Telluride Mountain School during the day, and to the community at the Telluride Historical Museum at 5 p.m., on Sept. 25

By Jessica Kutz,
Staff Reporter


Authentic Learning, Authentic Assessment


IB PhotoTelluride Mountain School launches IB program

By AMY M. PETERS, Planet Contributor


While all students at Telluride Mountain School (TMS) returned for their first day of class on Tuesday, upperclassmen are participating in something particularly novel in this new school year.

After 3.5 years of planning and teacher training, TMS officially launched its International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum — and all juniors and seniors are enrolled.

It is the only independent school in Colorado to offer

the program.

Associate Head of School Andy Shoff said that although subject matter has not drastically changed under the IB banner, the program does offer an increased awareness of shared educational principles and a more formal structure for assessment.

“The IB does not dictate a prescribed curriculum,” he said. “Instead, it offers concepts and goals and suggests different avenues to achieve them.”

In the process of implementing IB, Shoff said, he learned to think more “holistically” about education. The system is based on a so-called Learner Profile, which lists 10 traits of IB learners, including being “reflective,” “knowledgeable,” and “communicators.”

Shoff said that the profile offered a lens through which TMS has examined its entire curriculum.

“IB is exciting, and it helps to refine and improve our program,” Shoff said. “There’s a lot of interest in authentic learning and authentic assessment. It’s an official — though not radical — change.”

Sixteen students, some of them new to TMS, are now enrolled in grades 11 and 12 — a record number. Shoff credits this, in part, to the launch of the IB program.

History teacher Jesse McTigue described the program as a “prescribed template” around which instructors make choices to satisfy overarching criteria.

“I wouldn’t say I’ve changed this year’s curriculum,” McTigue said. “I’d say I’ve added and modified — more case studies, more focus on evaluating sources and on seriously implementing student-led assessment and learning, which we’ve always done. I think (IB has) allowed us to hyper-focus on things that have always been important to us, and it’s given us an excuse to put priority items in the forefront of our practice.”

Over the past couple of years, teachers have been trained in the IB curriculum and have piloted IB principles in their classrooms.

Spanish teacher Ross Perrot attended Rice University for a four-day IB workshop where he interacted with 35 or 40 other Spanish teachers from around the world.

“Some had been teaching IB for quite a while, and some were brand new to it,” Perrot said. “We all exchanged curriculum guides, files, ideas and resources.”

Perrot has been implementing IB strategies and teaching methods for the past couple of years, knowing that IB was coming.

Math teacher Paul Hearding completed his comprehensive IB training program online.

“You participate in discussions with people around the world who are doing the same thing,” Hearding said. “One of the eye-opening things in math training is the grading scheme that they use for mathematical solutions. I think it’s going to help me prepare students better for the exam by grading them consistently.”

All juniors and seniors will take traditional academic classes in the IB program: math, English, history, science, Spanish and arts. In addition, they take several core classes unique to the IB program: creativity, activity and service, The Extended Essay and Theory of Knowledge.

Shoff said that roughly 75 percent of students who take IB tests earn an IB diploma, and emphasized that not earning a diploma is not a failure.

“Students still take a tremendous amount away from the learning,” Shoff said. “We’re not teaching to the test. We believe these are good assessments. This is not something to be avoided or feared.”

Hearding views the assessments as an opportunity.

“We’ve got a great group of kids at this school,” he said. “I think this gives them an international stage to show the world what we’ve got here.”

Patent Pending

Thanks to Genius Hour, a rising fifth grade student has a Patent Pending!

Last fall, the third and fourth grade teacher Ben Gardner, brought Genius Hour to TMS. Genius Hour, a concept originating at Google, allowed employees time to research and develop individual projects to help foster creativity and innovation.

Recently, the concept was introduced into the classroom to allow students time to foster their own creativity and develop a lifelong love of learning.

Once a week, the third and fourth grade class had time to work on their own Genius Hour projects with the end goal of not only presenting their creative work to their classmates and parents but to ultimately develop skills, interests and innovation in areas that students might otherwise not learn in a classroom setting.

All of the projects may not have ended in perfect execution, but the process helped students understand and develop their own interests, fail without consequences, and practice trial and error.

Over the course of the year, students worked on projects such as fashion design, computer

coding, website development, stop-motion filming, screenwriting, rocketry, and a wide spectrum of other topics.

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And most recently, a rising fifth grade student has a patent pending!

Reeve Johnson spent most of the school year developing a magnetic desk/shelf that some of the students used in the great room (you may have seen it in the hallway) Reeve made two prototypes in the process and added a number of features; a cup holder, a light and a level indicator. With the help of a patent lawyer, Reeve filed a ten page document with mechanical drawings and photos…The patent lawyer is optimistic that it will get approved!

Hats off to Ben Gardner for bringing Genius Hour to TMS!  For the 2017-18 school year, Ben will offer Genius Hour to the fifth and sixth grades as well as the third and fourth.

A Parent’s Perspective

While we do not allow parents to “tag along” or serve as general chaperones on experiential education trips with their children, on occasion a student has a serious medical condition and the parent is asked to help lead a trip. Below is a letter from an Upper School parent who recently spent two weeks traveling with the seventh and eighth grade class on their spring immersion trip through Alabama, Tennessee, and Georgia.

“Dear Mountain School,

I wanted to submit my final thoughts and reflections, for your records, on the South Trip that I was privileged enough to attend.

First, I want to thank you for taking the historically unorthodox measure of inviting a parent on as a “Leader” for the experiential education component of your curriculum.   I know that you do not normally advocate for parents on field trips, but now that I have seen the inner working of this program…I am fully awed and feel enlightened to have seen, first hand, the magic that occurred within this curriculum!

I also feel grateful for your willingness to accommodate the special medical needs of my student in order to allow her to be able to experience this life-changing journey with her peers in a way that felt comfortable in regards to the Diabetes care.  Overall, this year we have been very pleased with the silent yet compassionate “all-eyes-on” approach the Diabetes management that has helped our daughter stay safe at school.   Ultimately, this year has been very empowering for her on so many levels.

After witnessing first hand the learning and care that ensued on the South trip, I returned with the 7th and 8th-grade class ultimately impressed by the following-through of the Mountain School mission on the road.  The experiential part of the student’s education proved to be profound and transnational for the students…and me.  I was able to get a real glimpse of the richness and magic that the outside-of-the-classroom-walls approach had on the students in the end.

The teachers and their care for the students and their learning experience were exemplary.  First, the stamina and involvement by the teaching staff were beyond full time.  They gave of themselves in a completely selfless way with a devoted dedication to the students. The teachers were committed to the student’s learning and positive group experience. Andy, Jacqui, and Paul were literally working around the clock for the students putting the kids and the curriculum in front of all else.   Once again, Andy’s wealth of knowledge and expertise on the subject matter was deep, and the teachers made a lesson out of every experience we had as we went.  The kids asked for math problems to solve in the van and at restaurants that were pertinent to their travel.  That love of math and learning, I had never seen before. All students were involved and motivated to solve.  Jacqui even made a card game about civil rights trivia that they played in the van as we drove.

On another note, it was amazing and refreshing to be surrounded by teenagers WHO WERE NOT ON THEIR PHONES during this whole journey. It really challenged them to be present and interact, and I do feel this is rare. Being device-less is also a valuable social skill to foster, which the Mountain School does nobly.

I witnessed the staff care for the student as if they were family, and the attentiveness to safety, nutrition, resting, reflecting, and discipline, was fantastic.   Ultimately, the teachers demanded respect on all levels from their students.  I was overjoyed to see that compassion was expected and taught.  This came through when we arrived at a hotel at midnight in Nashville that did not feel good and safe.  We could have chanced it and spent a few hours of sleeping in a sketchy motel, but instead, the call was made to keep it safe, reorganize and scramble at midnight after a long day, to make sure the students were best taken care of.    I will never forget Andy saying,  “You are my flock, and we need to make decisions that are best for you (students) to keep you happy and healthy!” As a parent witness, this validated the deep commitment the teachers have for the best interest of their students.  That is when I saw an authentic love and deep care for the students and felt confident that they were in very capable hands.

I also got to get an inside glimpse of the family dynamic among the 7th and 8th graders who appreciated each other and clearly accepted and celebrated each individual for each of their unique personalities that made up their group.  This comradery, I feel, is rare at this age, and what I saw was tender, loving and support in a way that each individual student was able to shine in their own light. Any sub-par behavior or action was quickly addressed and all negativity and unacceptable behavior were squashed to make sure everyone felt included as part of the group.  Once again, I was impressed.

I saw the impact of the experiential learning that took place and it was life changing.  An 8th-grade boy said, after given time to journal and process, “I am embarrassed to be related by color to people who would treat other people this way.” This showed me that the curriculum and subject matter was hitting hard to the core.  I saw our 8th-grade girls drawn to tears after an exhibit where they learned that modern day slavery still takes place today.  This information completely shook their worldview.   I would have to say, the trip was transformational for each student, and myself included.  Thank you for allowing me to see “backstage” on one of the infamous experiential education trips that are integral to the culture of the Mountain School.

All I have is praise.”

-Joanna Kanow

TMS Alumni Gather for College Symposium

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Five TMS alumni gathered the last week of school to talk to upper school students about their college experience and give them a few pieces of advice.


Although it seems pretty intuitive, it was unanimous that actually going to class was a success factor. The alums stressed the importance of utilizing office hours, talking to professors, doing homework, self motivating, and sitting in the front of classroom.

The alumni also talked about some of  their decisions to take a gap year, change their majors, or  transfer colleges mid-year to a school that better fit their interests or social profiles.

When asked how TMS prepared them for life outside of the box canyon, a few common themes ran deep. TMS had prepared them as travelers, independent and critical thinkers, writers and relationship-builders.

You will excel above your college classmates in writing.

TMS students focus a considerable amount of time writing essays, and although it may seem a bit torturous at times, every single alum said that they excelled above their college classmates in writing.

The immersion and experiential education trips had prepared them as independent thinkers and global travelers. Camilla Gardner recently took a gap year and traveled around Europe; she attributes the class trips to preparing her to study abroad and embrace her independence.

Makenna Craig talked about outdoor education, which gave her an additional skill set with the opportunity to lead outdoor trips with confidence and enthusiasm. Sara Friedberg also leveraged her outdoor skills and was hired to run outdoor trips at her school.  And from a social perspective, the alumni all agreed that TMS had taught them how to develop meaningful relationships with their peers.

All around, the college symposium was a great opportunity to hear success stories from former classmates and learn about travels, challenges and life choices.

Camilla Gardner just finished a gap year studying art history in Italy and completing a teacher training course in yoga; she will be attending Colorado College this fall. Sara Friedberg recently graduated from Whitman College with a degree in geology. Chase Lambert is currently studying film and nordic studies at CU Boulder; Makenna Craige is currently a sophomore at University of Puget Sound in Washington; and Bobbie Coonie is a junior majoring in engineering at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.


Consistently Embodying Our Core Values

At the end of each school year, the faculty selects three students to receive the Founders Award. This award is given to students who best exemplify the school’s core values: Respect, Love of Learning, Responsibility and Integrity. This year, the winners were Mollie McTigue, Jula Cieciuch  and Cody Krueger.

Mollie Jula Founders Award Cody

Below is an excerpt from Mollie McTigue’s speech.

I have a younger sister Belle who was diagnosed with type one diabetes. This year she has shown courage and bravery and that she is the toughest person I have ever met. She has also shown me what love of learning and love of Mountain School really looks like. When my sister was in the hospital all she wanted to do was go back to school, learn, see her friends and see the community. The day she came home, members of Mountain School had made a huge card in the form of a banner that was hung on our garage door. We hung it in our kitchen and Belle won’t let my mom recycle it…Just like she won’t let her recycle spelling tests or any school work…Belle, I share this award with you, Your constant optimistic attitude is inspiring. You show me that we need to appreciate what we have and that every moment is a new opportunity to make a change.“… to read Mollie’s entire speech please click here


Ancients of the Southwest

The 5th and 6th grade class embarked on a journey through the ancient mesas and canyons of the Southwest for their experiential education trip this spring.

Students explored the history of the area and the cultures of the ancient people who once lived DSC_0081in the cliffs and canyons of our rugged surrounding landscape. They experienced first hand how the Anasazi and Navajo people lived, they learned to weave baskets while camping at Mesa Verde and practiced weaving a traditional Navajo rug by using a Navajo-made loom.

In Canyon de Chelly, they stayed in a traditional hogan that was over 100 years old and shared food with their camp host, whose family lived in the canyon for generations. They also took a  jeep tour through Canyon de Chelly with Navajo guides, a place off-limits to outsiders because it is where many Navajo still live today.

DSC_0091The students reconnected with friends at The St. Michael’s Association for Special Education, a school for disabled Navajo children. The visit was particularly special because each year, the 5th and 6th graders ski with St. Michael’s in partnership with Telluride Adaptive Sports Program.

Students used their experiences on the trip to focus on immersing themselves in a topic of choice, which they will present in an expo at the end of the school year.

Written by Jacqui Power, Trip Leader and 5th and 6th Grade Teacher.

To view the Presentation on Learning video please click Vimeo

To view the photo gallery please visit Flickr