Students in grades seven through nine will explore parts of the Green River this spring. (Courtesy photo)

In spite of the pandemic, the Telluride Mountain School (TMS) remains committed to experiential and travel-based learning. Where annual fall trips center on outdoor education and orientation, annual spring trips have a more cultural focus. This year all spring trips, which will be completed by June 1, are outdoors, closer to home and have a tighter curricular connection.

First- and second-graders will follow tradition by visiting the Dinosaur Journey Museum in Fruita and exploring nearby valleys with a paleontologist. They will also raft the Ruby Horsethief stretch of the Colorado River.

This week, students in grades three and four navigated riparian ecology around Moab, Utah, staying for the first time on-campus at the Canyonlands Field Institute (CFI), sleeping in teepees. With CFI instructors, they rafted the Colorado River and performed field investigations. Students will now weave their studies into an end-of-year desert animal puppet show, creating both the script and the papier- mâché puppets.

Fifth- and sixth-graders will drive to Black Canyon and Great Sand Dunes national parks by way of “roads less travelled” for an immersive study of the great Colorado frontier. Students will camp, fly fish along the Gunnison Gorge and night hike. Then, on to Lake City and Creede, where they will attend workshops on clowning and character-building taught by professionals from The Creede Repertory Theatre.

Normally, students in seventh and eighth grade travel to the American South to study the history of the civil rights movement. Instead, they’ll take a private scenic flight to a river put-in along the Green River to ride the class II and III whitewater of Desolation Canyon. Via technical canyoneering, students will discover stories in sandstone landforms across Capitol Reef.

For the first time, ninth graders will take a river trip through the magnificent Gates of Lodore, also along the Green River. After take-out, students will go rock climbing and canyoneering.

Traditionally, students in grades 10-12 travel to Eastern Europe or Costa Rica for their spring immersion trip. This year, they will embark on a new adventure to the canyons of the desert southwest, following a curriculum focused on indigenous people, land conservation and water issues, and discussing an anthology of readings with public lands activist and author Amy Irvine. Lead by upper school teachers Emily Durkin and Jesse McTigue, the trip has several stages: visiting Paria-Canyon and Vermilion Wilderness area; flatwater kayaking the Colorado River from Glen Canyon to Lee's Ferry then kayaking backpack-style on Lake Powell; exploring Navajo Canyon, Antelope Canyon and Labyrinth Canyon; and ending with three days in Zion National Park.

“It's been a trying year,” McTigue admitted. “I'm excited to get outside and do what the mountain school does best.”

Before upper school students can take their trip, however, seniors must first complete International Baccalaureate (IB) exams, which were canceled last year due to the pandemic.

While all four seniors — Kelly Stellmacher, Mona Taylor, Cassidy Craige and Kashius Ford — are part of the IB program and are working to receive potential college credit, three are diploma candidates, comprising the third cohort of seniors to ever take IB exams at TMS.

Between Tuesday and May 13, the three seniors will sit for tests in five subjects that last two-three hours each. In place of an exam for the sixth subject, art, there will be a final exhibition. Exams are graded externally by the IB where the exam counts for three-fourths of a student’s final grade with the balance of the grade based on a student’s coursework and other graded assignments over the previous two years. Results are returned by July 5.

Stellmacher, who’s attended TMS since kindergarten, sees the IB program as an opportunity to push herself to gain as much knowledge during her high school years as possible.

“Because I’m attending a college that doesn’t accept IB credit — Olin College of Engineering — I solely hope to do well for the sake of trying my hardest and accomplishing all I can,” she explained. “Doing well on the exams and ultimately earning the diploma in July would mean that all of my efforts for the past two years have a solid, tangible reward.”

Similar to last year, a traditional (albeit “podded”) outdoor graduation is scheduled for June 4 on Golden Ledge near Gray Head, which offers magnificent views of Wilson Peak.

“This small but mighty group” of four graduating seniors has contributed to the life of the school and the broader Telluride community through academics, the arts and service, TMS Head of School Andy Shoff said.

“We’re thrilled to be celebrating the impressive accomplishments of these seniors in classic mountain school style — outdoors and together — as they head off towards college and adventures beyond,” he said.