Community Engagement Guidelines for Excellence in Action: Nature Kids/Juvenes De La Naturaleza (NKJN) at Keystone Science School


Community Engagement Guidelines for Excellence in Action: Nature Kids/Juvenes De La Naturaleza (NKJN) at Keystone Science School

Keystone Science School is a residential environmental education facility in Keystone, Colorado with a mission to inspire curiosity and critical thinking through the lens of science. KSS achieves this mission through residential school field trips, day and overnight camps, and adventure programs.

Think of your last outdoor adventure, you likely crossed paths with few, if any minorities. The Colorado Outdoor Industry Office, Colorado Outdoor RX, report states, “nationally, Americans spend more than 90% of their time in enclosed areas…youth, in particular, are spending less time outdoors.” Even more concerning is that, “the problem is exacerbated in minority and lower-income communities. Numerous studies have found that underserved communities in U.S. cities have less access to green space.” Developing the next generations of outdoor leaders with diverse backgrounds is essential. Keystone Science School (KSS) is removing barriers to outdoor access for underserved youth through many strategies and programs. A key program is as a partner of the 5-year (2017 – 2021) collective impact initiative, Nature Kids/Jovenes De La Naturaleza (NKJN) through the support of Thorne Nature Experience.

Keystone Science School is partnering with Thorne Nature Experience to provide outdoor education and adventure experiences for Lafayette, Colorado students in 5th-12th grade. Over 3-days and 2-nights students hike on local public land trails in White River National Forest as they learn experientially about their surrounding environment. As they hike, students ask questions of their peers to seek solutions—developing their leadership and critical thinking skills. During free blocks of time students pursue nature-based activities on their own—growing independence and self-awareness. Through this experience students develop trust and partnership with the outdoors for the first time.  When this project started in 2017 the city of Lafayette lacked access to safe outdoor spaces and outdoor education opportunities. As a partner with Thorne Nature Experience, Keystone Science School has helped make outdoor education accessible for Lafayette students. These experiences include a traditional overnight outdoor school experience, camping, and backpacking. Students have the opportunity to learn outdoor skills, ecology, and geology. These programs have been made possible through Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) funding. Below I will outline areas of strength and areas of growth as we evaluate the NKJN program at Keystone Science School using the Community Engagement: Guidelines for Excellence.

Key Characteristic #1 - Community Centered

In order to stay engaged with the Lafayette community, we attend NKJN community meetings and communicate closely with the community liaisons. The community liaisons visit the students’ homes to communicate program offerings, logistical details, and registration assistance. We also attend school parent nights so families can meet us and discuss any comments or concerns. Despite our efforts, this characteristic is a challenge and an area of growth for us. We are located approximately two hours from the City of Lafayette that we are serving. This physical separation creates a challenge when trying to serve and integrate into a community, we must rely on the community liaisons to communicate the details of our programing. This can be challenging when the liaisons are unfamiliar with the specific details of all our programs.

Key Characteristic #2 - Based on Sound Environmental Education Principles

This characteristic is a strength for us. We have been offering strong, standards-based content to students since 1976. We offer our traditional three-day, two-night programming to the NKJN students. Each year we improve, add, and edit our curricula to stay current with the student culture and evolving standards. We hire instructors with at least two years of teaching experience and provide professional development and one-on-one instructional coaching throughout the year.  

Key Characteristic #3 - Collaborative and Inclusive

We collaborate with Thorne Nature Experience and Cal-Wood Education Center to provide programming and diversity and inclusion training. One of our English Language Learner (ELL) certified teachers also provides additional on-site training to instructors that includes ELL teaching strategies and diversity training.

Key Characteristic #4 - Oriented Toward Capacity Building and Civic Action

Our NKJN Basin Voyage program pays a stipend to high school students for their participation in the program. The program incorporates community improvement projects with an introduction to careers and current issues in natural resources and environmental education.

Key Characteristic #5 - A Long-Term Investment in Change

Keystone Science School has systems in place to support students in Lafayette after the GOCO funding period is over. We have both individual scholarships for summer student involvement and schoolarships that can be applied for by schools during the academic year. It is our hope that with these funding options in place, the Lafayette students can continue to attend Keystone Science School in the future.

Overall, this program has been both challenging and rewarding. After programming all students used three words or less to finish the following statement, “spending time in nature makes me feel…”. 95% percent of the students shared positive responses to being in nature. Using the Community Engagement Guidelines has helped us to be more successful in programming and integrating into a community that has traditionally been underserved by outdoor education opportunities. It is our hope that as we continue using the guidelines to evaluate and improve this program that we can help students create a lasting positive relationship with nature and our organization.