(HS)2 Challenges and Inspires Students from Underserved Communities Across the Country

Imagine never having seen a mountain with your own eyes before. Pretty tough for us around these parts, isn’t it? Imagine, too, excelling in the toughest classes at your high school—only to wonder if you’ll ever make it out of your hometown, let alone to college someday.

Many of the bright young students who attend the STEM-based High School High Scholar summer enrichment program at Colorado Rocky Mountain School (CRMS) in Carbondale have. They arrive on campus from the New Orleans lowcountry, the sprawl of Dallas-Fort Worth, the dense urban neighborhoods of New York City, and from just over the Divide in Denver. Upon taking in the majesty of Mt. Sopris for the first time, some are “awestruck,” says CRMS communications manager Aimee Yllanes. “These kids have an opportunity to experience something completely new here.”

The program, also called (HS)2, was created in 2007 in partnership with the Aspen Science Center and founders Mollie and Garland Lasater, who reside part-time in Snowmass. (HS)2 students are selected through an extensive application and interview process during their freshman year of high school, and spend five weeks per summer at CRMS over the course of the next three years. 

“The students are all high-achieving, first-generation college, from low-income households,” Yllanes notes of the kids, who are African American, Native American, and Latino. “They must meet certain criteria to be considered for the program.”

(HS)2 students begin each morning with classes and fill their afternoons with chosen studies in arts and sports. Kids who have never been exposed to the wealth of outdoor activities we sometimes take for granted here in the valley have the chance to raft, hike, climb, and experience the active mountain lifestyle firsthand. They also benefit from CRMS partnerships with several area organizations, such as the Aspen Institute, and receive college counseling assistance with test prep, interview skills, essay writing, and more. And the cost? Nothing. Each student attends free of charge thanks to the generosity of private program donors.

In July, 25 third-year participants graduated from the program and returned home to finish their high school careers with a bang. All 25 are on track to enter college in the fall of 2020, and at least half are expected to pursue studies in STEM-related fields.

“We are immensely proud of what our (HS)2 students have achieved,” Yllanes says. “They leave here ready to make their mark on the world.”