Mountain school

Telluride Mountain School students in seventh and eighth grade visit the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama, in 2017.

A cornerstone of the Telluride Mountain School (TMS) curriculum is the experiential education program. Where fall experiential trips are outdoor education-based, spring trips are curriculum-based to inform via travel and experience elements learned in the classroom. Over the coming weeks, six groups of students, led by TMS teachers, will travel to domestic and international destinations.

“It’s been said that what we need to learn, we learn by doing,” Head of School Andy Shoff said. “These trips make classroom learning come alive and provide an opportunity for our students to engage with each other, with their teachers, with the communities that they’re visiting, from a much richer perspective than if they weren’t able to go into the fields.”

Students in grade 11-12 will travel to Vietnam and Cambodia to explore culture, history, art, architecture and geography with visits to Siem Reap, Ho Chi Minh City and Phnom Penh.

The trip will provide students with a layered perspective on their history studies of the Cold War, Communism and the Vietnam War via visits to Aki Ra’s War Remnant Museum and an orphanage outside of Siem Reap in Cambodia.

Trip leader and biology teacher Emily Durkin explained that the adventure will also cover climate change, conservation, agriculture and nutrient systems; all elements of the TMS biology curriculum. Students will compare conservation programs in Vietnam and Cambodia, visiting a center for biological conservation in Angkor Wat and the Chu Chi Rescue station in Vietnam. They will home-stay in the Mekong Delta, a major source of agricultural products in the area, and will perform service at a Cambodian elephant sanctuary.

Ninth- and 10th-graders, traveling internationally with TMS for the first time, will venture to the jungles and beaches of Costa Rica, a staple trip in the TMS curriculum. Students will home-stay in the surf town of Dominical, where they will attend language school three mornings a week and surf camp in the afternoons.

“The language school and home-stay portions allow for students to immerse themselves in Costa Rican culture for a full-week,” trip leader and Spanish teacher Ross Perrot said.

From there, students backpack in the Peninsula de Osa, home of Corcovado National Park, to explore Costa Rica’s ecology and rich biodiversity. Students end their trip rafting down the Pacuare River in San Jose.

The seventh- and eighth-graders will travel through Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia on a three-week trip examining defining moments of the civil rights movement.

Starting in Atlanta at the birthplace of Martin Luther King Jr., students will attend church services at the historic 16th St. Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, and march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma to understand the history of segregation.

They will bike in rural neighborhoods, visit museums, churches and The Civil Rights Institute, meet locals, attend a ball game, listen to music, and enjoy quintessential Southern food.   

Over five days of travel, fifth- and sixth-grade students will absorb Native American culture across the Four Corners region, visiting Chaco Canyon, Canyon de Chelly and Canyon of the Ancients, exploring the history of the Ancestral Puebloans, cliff dwellings, farming, basket weaving, and calling on Navajo veterans and code-talkers.

Students will visit St. Michael’s School on the Navajo Indian Reservation in Window Rock, Arizona, where they will reconnect with students they met while training with TASP this winter for special education service learning.

Third- and fourth-graders will explore Moab on a four-day trip that includes hiking and water-color painting in Arches National Park, studying pothole ecology at San Flats, volunteering at the Moab Youth Garden Project and a rafting trip down the Colorado River led by field educators from the Canyonlands Field Institute.

Caitlin Orintas, director of the lower school, teacher and trip leader, explained that this is a “tried and true trip” that connects academics with experiential learning.  

“We’ll be making connections to our watershed and water cycle studies and to food webs and chains as we study this Riparian ecosystem,” she said.

First- and second-graders will take a two-night overnight trip to Fruita, where they will visit the Dinosaur Discovery Museum and locate dinosaur tracks on nearby hiking trails, followed by a day floating the Colorado River.  

Upon returning from their trips, students will share summary presentations of their adventures with the TMS community.

Because the juniors and seniors return late in the school year, they will be creating a travel blog in real time to capture their experiences, a project that Shoff said satisfies the International Baccalaureate goal of “international mindedness.”

“The travel blog updates will blend what they’re learning and what they’re experiencing through the thematic lens of conflict, culture and conservation,” he added.

Seventh- and eight-graders will construct a website showcasing different types of journalism in presenting their adventures, while third- and fourth-graders will produce a puppet show.

Students in first and second grades will make a museum of their classrooms, while fifth- and sixth-graders will present artifacts from their trip via multi-media and dramatic arts.

For more information on spring experiential trips, visit