ACES coming to class at Basalt Elementary School |

ACES coming to class at Basalt Elementary School

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

BASALT – Basalt Elementary School students will find something new on their schedule when they return to class later this month – full-on environmental science.

The Aspen Center for Environmental Studies will up its presence in the school curriculum, offering the sort of programming that the nonprofit has had in place at Aspen Elementary School for years. It was a natural expansion and a long time coming, according to Chris Lane, ACES CEO.

While Basalt students have had monthly environmental science programs through ACES, this fall’s effort represents a five-fold increase in instruction, involving a full-time ACES instructor plus a half-time position, he said.

Students in kindergarten through fourth grade will rotate through the class to take place in a dedicated classroom. They’ll attend environmental science every six days as part of a schedule that also includes art and music. All students also will take part in two to three field trips to Rock Bottom Ranch, ACES’s facility near Basalt, over the course of the school year.

The program will cost $47,800, according to Lane.

“We thought, gee, that’s going to be hard to raise. We can’t just pull this out of our budget,” he said.

But in eight weeks, contributors put forward enough funding to give ACES the confidence to proceed. Whole Foods, which is soon to open its doors at Willits in Basalt, provided a $5,000 grant through the company’s Seed to Start program. A major commitment from the Basalt Education Foundation put ACES past the threshold it needed to go forward. In addition, Partners in Education, a parent-led organization, and an Aspen business, Meridian Jewelers, have contributed.

Meridian owners Kenny and Robin Smith live in the midvalley, and their children go to school in Basalt.

“I know a lot of people with kids in the Aspen schools who’ve enjoyed and benefitted from that program,” Kenny said. “I think it’s great that ACES is looking at its vision valleywide.”

ACES is still $10,000 shy of its target for the coming school year in Basalt, however, and is also seeking support for future years. Contributors can contact Lane at ACES.

“Environmental education is our mission,” Lane said. “Our bread and butter for all these years has been teaching children where food comes from, how nature works. … This isn’t just a feel-good altruistic thing. This is, in my opinion, shaping the future leaders of the world.”

Basalt Elementary offers science instruction to students as part of its regular curriculum, according to Principal Suzanne Wheeler-Del Piccolo, but it comes in a 30- to 60-minute slot per day devoted to rotating subjects – social studies, health and handwriting, along with science, she said.

“We always struggle to get science into the regularly scheduled school day as much as we’d like,” she said. ” I was really excited to bring (ACES) in.”

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