Building love and respect for the outdoor world

Photos courtesy of Aspen Center for Environmental Studies
Wamsley Elementary 5th graders learned practical strategies for winter survival by mimicking alpine animals and conducting a scientific study of the snowpack during an ACES Education trip to Aspen Mountain.
Photos courtesy of Aspen Center for Environmental Studies

ACES Children’s Education Fund
In order to continue educating for environmental responsibility, ACES has a dedicated fund to support ACES Ed programs in local schools. ACES is holding a fundraising drive throughout the month of March for its Children’s Education Fund. To donate, visit

Aspen Center for Environmental Studies’ education programs expand downvalley, teaching love and responsibility for the environment

By Lauren Glendenning
Brought to you by Aspen Center for Environmental Studies

Whether they’re out exploring riparian habitats or following the tracks of a snowshoe hare around their school, elementary students in the Roaring Fork Valley have incredible learning experiences both in and out of the classroom thanks to a unique partnership between the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies and local school districts.

Students in Aspen have enjoyed this education about the beautiful and complex outdoor world that surrounds them for more than 40 years, but recent efforts and collaboration have helped deliver these programs further down the Roaring Fork Valley.

Thanks to the efforts of ACES’ Educators, these students develop a deeper understanding of and connection to the outdoors.

Katrina Winograd has been one of ACES’ Educators for the past 5 years. She currently leads ACES’ outreach and education in the Garfield RE-2 School District in New Castle, which launched last fall.

Winograd attributes much of the success of the program to Arin Trook, the beloved education director at ACES who died tragically in an avalanche last month.

“He always wanted to go further downvalley. He wanted to share our curriculum as far and wide as possible — even down to the Front Range, she said. “He envisioned our program’s expansion and set that process in motion with his unique energy and passion.”

Important curriculum
Through a three-year partnership with Great Outdoors Colorado, ACES’ expansion into New Castle, Rifle and Silt includes semester-long stints at the 6 elementary schools in the RE-2 school district — Kathryn Senor and Elk Creek in New Castle, Cactus Valley in Silt, and Wamsley, Highland and Graham Mesa in Rifle — with lessons about fossils, watersheds, winter tracking, and more.

“They’ll be learning about watersheds and about how pollution affects human and natural communities up and down stream,” Winograd said. “And we’ll go to Hallam Lake to do some macroinvertebrate hunting, which are bioindicators of healthy wetlands.”

Great Outdoors Colorado invests portions of Colorado Lottery proceeds toward local projects throughout the state that help preserve and enhance the state’s parks, trails, wildlife, rivers and open spaces. This perfectly aligns with ACES’ mission to educate for environmental responsibility.

“Right now, our goal is to work with teachers in New Castle, Rife and Silt to get them familiar with environmental science lessons so they can continue to teach students down there,” said Derek Ferguson, ACES’ Education Coordinator, adding that conversations continue about what to do with this programming after the three-year partnership ends.

At Aspen Elementary, Basalt Elementary and Crystal River Elementary, ACES has full-time teachers in the schools teaching environmental education classes to students in kindergarten through fourth grade. ACES’ daily elementary school classes reach 1,700 students each week with lessons that help these students meet state science standards, including ecology, STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), regenerative agriculture and renewable energy, to name a few.

Winograd said the ACES’ curriculum helps supplement the curriculum taught by home room teachers, and there are really fun ways that teachers combine lessons to make learning fun.

At Crystal River Elementary, for example, the ACES Educators and first-grade teachers have worked together to create Family Science Nights, one of which is tailored to learning all about owls. ACES has a resident Great Horned Owl, so this family program includes live owl demonstrations, an owl pellet dissection and other fun activities that help students (and parents) learn about this local bird of prey.

A love for the outdoor world
By blending science, critical thinking, and outdoor hands-on learning, kids end up getting excited about nature, Ferguson said.

“Then, through educating about nature and building knowledge about why things are the way they are, we give them the tools to be environmentally responsible in their own lives. These programs are all about building love, connection, a knowledge base, and a passion for environmental responsibility,” he said.

Winograd is proud that ACES’ curriculum is spreading to more diverse communities, which ties into ACES’ social justice work as well.
“Everyone, regardless of background, ethnicity and socio-economic status is connected to the natural world,” she said. “I’m proud that ACES sees that reaching diverse communities is not only important, but it’s essential — it’s a no-brainer.”

Beyond the classrooms and field trips, Winograd said she hopes that at a fundamental, basic level, all of this work ultimately helps kids connect with the natural spaces they might have never noticed before.

“There’s so much to look for in the natural world,” she said. “I hope that these kids grow up really caring about those natural spaces and feeling excited to explore and learn about spaces they haven’t yet seen.