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As part of our “Leaders Then Leaders Now” series, Ashley Volzke reflects on her experiences at Outdoor Lab as a student, a High School Leader, and now a teacher at Evergreen Middle School.


My Outdoor Lab story starts when I was a 6th grader, excited (and a little nervous, if I’m honest) to spend a week in the mountains of Windy Peak with my friends and my favorite teacher Mr. Harding. I remember wanting to learn everything there was to know about nature and the outdoors.

During our week, Mr. Harding arranged for HawkQuest to bring live birds into the basement of the Dining Hall. He also scheduled a visit from a Search and Rescue team. I remember watching my best friend get “found” by the Search and Rescue dog. I absolutely loved my interns and had a blast hanging out in Windy Peak’s Columbine Cabin.

Fast forward six years and I got to experience Outdoor Lab from a different side of things, attending Windy Peak with Mr. Harding again, this time as a High School Leader. Teaching the content I once loved learning about, getting to directly see the impact I was having on the students, and having another amazing time in the mountains with some of my best friends (and future husband) were just some of the highlights of my time as a leader.

Fast forward another four years and Outdoor Lab still had more adventures in store for me, this time attending Windy Peak as a teacher with my own class of 6th grade students. Planning for the student experience, gathering High School Leaders, working with the on-site staff, and seeing the change in my students gave me a whole new appreciation for the magic that is Outdoor Lab.

Mr. Harding, Outdoor Lab, and the High School Leader Program were deeply impactful for me and influential in my choosing a career as an educator. Year after year, it has been amazing as a teacher to see the 6th graders experience independence and watch the High School Leaders step into their roles as mentors. It is inspiring to witness how truly influential five days can be.

The legacy of Outdoor Lab continues as I get to work with my favorite teacher Mr. Harding (it’s still hard for me to call him Jason) at Mt. Evans. I enjoy reconnecting with my former students when they volunteer as High School Leaders. And, of course, I love to experience Outdoor Lab with a new group of 6th graders every year. Talk about an incredible experience. From that first week as a 6th grader at Windy Peak all the way to my ninth year as a 6th grade teacher, Outdoor Lab continues to inspire.

-Ashley Volzke