ASD’s AEROnautics Program: Redefining “Higher Education”

ASD’s AEROnautics Program: Redefining “Higher Education”

The AERO (AEROnautics, Engineering, Research, Opportunities) AV8R Program at Aspen School District transforms learning math and physics, which can be challenging and often dry subjects, into a fascinating, hands-on educational experience through building and flying airplanes. It is the only program in the country that integrates all aspects of flying into the STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics) approach to learning. It starts with summer camp, and before/after-school programs for elementary and middles school students that include everything from constructing motorized, remote controlled, model aircraft to operating flight simulators. Middle schoolers can then deepen their knowledge in the Junior Ground School and Explorations program. Their exceptional classroom consists of a state-of-the-art flight simulator, three huge flat screen TVs to show flight videos, a bank of desktop flight simulators with pedals, models of airplanes, and the feeling of soaring above the trees. The opportunities become expansive for high schoolers with a host of Experiential Education courses, and formal training that has led to several students earning their pilot’s license!

“The four core values that are woven through the program’s lessons, activities and structure are commitment, perseverance, respect and honor. In addition, students are taught incredibly valuable life skills such as responsibility, time management, goal setting and achievement, decision making, how to think on their feet (or in the seat), and a higher level of technological literacy. Not only can students receive college credit, they create an impeccable resume.”
Greg Roark, Director of AEROnautics at the Aspen School District
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A Future in AEROnautics

There will soon be a critical shortage of pilots. The AEROnautics program is hoping to help fill that gap. Career exploration and readiness is a large component of the program that serves over 200 kids annually. Through exposure to aircraft manufacturers, designers, pilots, educators and historians – participants get a clear understanding of the industry. Students who pursue a career in AEROnautics have been accepted into top educational institutions and flight programs including the Air Force Academy, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Stanford University, MIT, and The U.S. Marine Corps.

It takes about $300,000 to run the program annually. While the Aspen School District hosts the program, all funds come from grants and donations.  The needs of the AEROnautics program are many and include:

  • Creating more depth in the programming
  • Creating more depth in the programming
  • Developing team-teaching opportunities in the classroom







ASD’s International Baccalaureate Program: Readying Students for College and Beyond

ASD’s International Baccalaureate Program: Readying Students for College and Beyond

Do you want your kids to think independently? Become culturally-aware? Learn a second language? Engage with people in an increasingly globalized, rapidly changing world? This is just what the International Baccalaureate (IB) program cultivates at Aspen High School (AHS).

“IB is a powerful experience to all students involved. A student’s exposure to rigorous courses that promote time management, prioritization, balance, problem solving and perseverance sets them up for the intensity of their freshman year of college and life beyond.” Tameira Wilson, Aspen High School Academic Coordinator
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The program is normally taught over two years and has gained recognition and respect from the world’s leading universities. AHS takes pride in its open enrollment policy, allowing any student to participate in the IB Program provided he/she has taken the course prerequisites. We currently test around 70 percent of the senior class in at least one IB subject every year. This year, we have grown the program to include an additional 50 students. The full IB diploma numbers have increased by 30 percent, with 26 juniors enrolled in the diploma class of 2019.


Current needs of the IB program:

  • Professional Development – Send additional teachers to IB training
  • Professional Development – Send additional teachers to IB training
  • Expanding class offerings – Offer additional IB classes to serve the interests and future needs of students in grades 9 through 12
  • Promote IB for all – Weaving the philosophy and expectations into all classes




ASD’s Robotics Program: Learning + Fun to Increase STEM & Collaborative Skills

ASD’s Robotics Program: Learning + Fun to Increase STEM & Collaborative Skills

Robotics is a hands-on, innovative and fun program designed to engage students in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) while developing social/emotional skills involved with teamwork and collaboration.

“Students become builders, engineers and problem solvers while learning programming skills and fostering creativity. They struggle through conflicts, deal with failure, learn about problems in the community, and then take part in a public exhibition. I have had students tell me it was the most significant experience in middle school, and many have gone on to engineering and other STEM programs because they realized their passion for the subject.” Caroline Hanson, Aspen Middle School Enrichment Coordinator and STEM teacher

The high school team allows students who have a deeper interest in engineering and team collaboration to explore mechanics in greater depth, develop coding skills to make a robot operate, communicate with an international community of learners like themselves, and promote a team in the community and beyond.

Friendly Competition
Both the middle and high school programs culminate with local and regional tournaments that inspire friendly competition and real-world learning. The competitive format gives students an authentic audience and motivates them to achieve at a high level against students throughout the state and western region. Aspen Middle School has fielded teams at the state, national, and international level, and the high school team is not only a state-ranked team, but last year was one of five teams in the state to compete against teams from 16 Western states.

The program celebrates 10 years of success and growth – starting with two teams in 2009 and now serving up to 30 AHS students, and allowing 90+ middle school kids to compete and another 200 to take exploratory classes. In addition, the middle school hosts a regional tournament.



The needs of the robotics program include:

  • More material and parts to build and repair robots
  • More material and parts to build and repair robots

  • Travel and registration fees for tournaments

  • Additional staff to support program growth




The Educational Experience at ASD: College Counseling

The Educational Experience at ASD: College Counseling

The Aspen High School College Counseling Program is dedicated to helping students consider options and achieve admission to the college of their choice. The college counseling staff is committed to every student and family, no matter the level of readiness for college or career planning. Their goal is to enable students to discover (and realize!) their potential and possibilities for the future. Counselors help identify the programs that are a good fit for each student, assist with the tricky application process and help families find the financial aid they need.


Building relationships is the heart and soul of the program. Whether they are guiding students, advising parents, collaborating with teachers, connecting with admissions directors on the college side, or learning and sharing best practices with peers in the profession, the college counseling staff is continuously developing relationships that empower them to share their expertise and knowledge with students and their families.

The program provides 150 hours of service to students over their four years at Aspen High School.  This is more than 200 times the national average of 37 minutes. Each student is offered educational evening meetings and workshops, college readiness classes and individual counseling over the course of four years.  The results are phenomenal: 96% of AHS graduates in 2017 moved on to a two-year or four-year college program.


What are the needs of the College Counseling Program?

Through the support of AEF, the College Counseling Program was able to provide a second counselor and office coordinator, as well as fund a College & Career Discovery class, all of which has elevated the access students have to college counseling and career planning.

Additional funding would enable:  

  • Professional development to continue to improve staff and keep them on top of industry standards and best practices
  • Professional development to continue to improve staff and keep them on top of industry standards and best practices

  • College readiness programs for first-generation students and their families, additional financial aid and scholarship education, test preparation and more
  • Improvement of outreach, education and services to meet the increasing demands of students as they prepare for their post-secondary future
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“One of the most frequent comments we hear about our office is, ‘We are so grateful to have you. We can’t imagine what we would do without you!’ Our families benefit immeasurably from our guidance, wisdom and experience as they navigate the complicated landscape of admissions, applications and postsecondary choices. They know that we are here to help them discover options and achieve their dreams.” Dr. Kathy Klug, College Counselor

“A comprehensive and holistic approach to College Counseling enables students to not just get accepted to college, but to actually go to a college that fits their needs in every way. College Counseling empowers students to go for it - to apply themselves at school and in the community, starting in 9th grade, so that they have plenty of choices by the time they graduate.” Melissa Lustig, College Counselor










The Educational Experience at ASD: Theater + Music

The Educational Experience at Aspen School District: Theater + Music


Aspen School District (ASD) believes exposure to the arts is an essential component of a well-rounded educational experience that leads to healthy self-expression, self-confidence, and overall personal growth. Students from all schools within the district are lucky enough to have the opportunity to participate in theater and music, both in the classroom and in afterschool programs. Below, three members of the arts faculty at ASD hold forth about the importance of arts education and its lasting impact on the lives of our students:

Marnie White teaches choral and music classes at Aspen Elementary, Mark Thompson leads the choir, instrumental and concert band at Aspen Middle School and Logan Carter heads up the theater programs for the middle and high schools.


Why is theater important to the success of the students involved?

Theatre teaches us how to be human. It’s about communication and expression, empathy and compassion. These are critical skills needed in a digital world where our students are growing up on their phones. It’s about taking risks, getting out of one’s comfort zone and building self-confidence, learning how to work as a team, commitment and persistence. Students have come into the program with very little self-esteem or direction in life and I have seen what theatre does for them. They find a family, they are supported and they discover skills and talent they never knew they had and wouldn’t find in any other setting. I have seen theatre give a lost student a purpose and passion.
Logan Carter - Theatre Director, Aspen School District

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Why is music vital to the success of the students involved in the program?

Music is highly influential in so many ways. Studies show a direct correlation between participation in school music programs and increased test scores. Students who study music show better executive functioning skills, higher social skills, express greater feelings of happiness and contentment and are better listeners. Not everyone is terribly successful in school academics; for some students, the only thing that keeps them coming back to school is the ability to participate in the arts.
Marnie White - Choir/Music Director, Aspen Elementary School

What are the growth opportunities for the middle and high school choir?

2017 was the first year, in several years, that choir has been included as a curricular course. In the coming years, we are hoping to expand the program to include more students (in all grade-levels) while continuing the support into high school. The program has given students an opportunity to perform for a variety of audiences in locations across Colorado (Denver, Colorado Springs, Grand Junction, Rifle) and the country (Los Angeles). We are looking forward to providing more performance opportunities for students in the years to come.
Mark Thompson—Band/Choir, Aspen Middle School


What are the needs of the theater/music departments?

  • Purchase of new instruments or repair of existing instruments
  • Travel expenses for performance opportunities
  • Replacing 25-year-old choral risers for K-12 use
  • Hosting guest artists for additional exposure to new instruments/performances
  • Higher-quality, more professional theater programming 
  • Hiring professional designers and directors to work with students and elevate production quality




Educational Excellence at ASD: Outdoor/Experiential Education

Excellence at Aspen School District: Outdoor/Experiential Education

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1968 marked the beginning of outdoor and experiential education in the Aspen School District (ASD). Since its inception, the program has expanded greatly to offer beyond-classroom educational experiences in which students participate in a variety of challenges and outdoor activities--hiking, climbing, rafting, ropes courses and group initiatives in the wilderness. Over the years, the high school program has evolved to include a variety of national destinations for cultural, artistic, urban or community-based learning.   

Outdoor and experiential education across all grades within ASD involves carefully chosen activities that are supported by reflection and critical analysis--and are structured to require each participant to take initiative, make decisions and be accountable for results. These experiences offer significant growth opportunities for students that are often life changing.

Program leaders from the district share their passion for its impact on students: 

"It is rare for a public school to be able to provide a program like this. Outdoor education promotes the development of perseverance, empathy, compassion, and the ability to recognize and appreciate each other's differences. It's a learning experience that simply cannot be replicated in the classroom. Reaching the 50-year milestone is a true testament to the collective dedication and support of both the ASD staff and the Aspen community as a whole." Craig Rogers, Aspen Middle School Principal
"Graduates of Aspen High School consistently rank their Ex Ed experiences as the most formative in their high school careers. It is truly unique to have such an array of course offerings all steeped in teachers' passions. The opportunity to meet new people, experience new places, and build community is unparalleled." Sarah Strassburger, Aspen High School Vice Principal
"The outdoor experience is part of what makes our District so special. Students learn skills that they can use for a lifetime and learn the importance of being part of a team. Students can demonstrate skills and leadership that you might not necessarily see in the classroom." Chris Basten, Aspen Elementary School Principal
Ex Ed defines Aspen High School. Whenever we invite our graduated seniors to provide feedback about Aspen High School, it consistently ranks as the most beneficial program we offer for their success in adulthood. It is what sets us apart from all other schools, not only in Colorado but the country!” Tharyn Mulberry, Aspen High School Principal


What are the current needs of the program?

  • Scholarships – Additional funds would ensure that all students have access to courses, no matter the cost. Courses range in price from $150 to $750
  • Scholarships – Additional funds would ensure that all students have access to courses, no matter the cost. Courses range in price from $150 to $750
  • New equipment
  • Training for teachers to guide/lead courses

Note: Outdoor education is predominantly funded by the annual ski swap hosted by AMS each November.







Funding Aspen’s Future: Aspen Education Foundation

Funding Aspen’s Future: Aspen Education Foundation

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In 1991, a small group of visionary parents created the Aspen Education Foundation (AEF) to bridge the gap in state funding for Aspen School District through private donations. Almost three decades later, AEF continues to fund programs and positions that enhance the student experience, and that otherwise wouldn’t exist due to a $1,300 per student annual deficit in public funding.

Below are two examples of how AEF makes a difference.


Supporting Higher Education

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Did you know Aspen High School’s college counseling department wouldn’t exist without funding from Aspen Education Foundation? This department consists of three professionals whose positions are made possible by AEF. Their main goal is to assist students and parents with college planning, which is made possible by maintaining relationships with colleges and universities nationwide. At the helm and well-known in the Aspen community, as well as in college admissions offices across the country, is Dr. Kathy Klug. She has been an instrumental part of the Aspen School District for 22 years, first as a teacher and now as a shrewd, effective college advisor to hundreds of AHS students. In addition, she co-founded the Colorado Western Slope College Fair that brings admission officers from 250 colleges and universities to Aspen each year. Learn more about Dr. Klug and college counseling.


Robotics = Learning + Fun


Robotics is one of the many programs that AEF funds.  It teaches students to become builders, engineers and problem solvers while introducing programming skills and fostering creativity. Caroline Hanson, Aspen Middle School’s enrichment coordinator and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) teacher leads 5th through 8th graders in this innovative and fun program that is designed to provide students with tools for success in college and STEM fields. In addition, robotics is also offered for Aspen High School students.

"Robotics involves public speaking and research; it also involves teamwork, core values, respect and cooperating in the process of competing," states Hanson. "It has the technology piece, the coding piece, the robotics piece, the building piece, which is really the main hook for the students."

The class culminates with local and regional tournaments that inspire friendly competition and real-world learning. Learn more about the robotics program.


Both college counseling positions and the robotics program are being supported by AEF’s Spring into Action annual fund campaign that kicks off this week. Join us in making educational excellence a priority.