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For Land Manager Tyson Phillips, day-to-day responsibilities include a comprehensive schedule consisting of guest lecturing and ranching, with FVS's flourishing English and Western riding programs playing a large part in the latter.
For Land Manager Tyson Phillips, day-to-day responsibilities include a comprehensive schedule consisting of guest lecturing and ranching, with FVS's flourishing English and Western riding programs playing a large part in the latter.
Living Off the Land: Sustainability in Academics at Fountain Valley School (Photo) - 02/21/24

Since 1930, Fountain Valley School (FVS) has utilized its sprawling campus as a “living laboratory." Through a partnership between the School’s faculty and in-house land management and grounds crews, FVS’s new freshman curriculum aims to foster one-of-a-kind learning experiences for ninth-grade students at home on its 1,100-acre Prairie.

Included among the School’s transformative new curriculum, The West, is a combination of traditional biology and ecology, a rarity for this specific age group. This past fall, freshmen science students were tasked with exploring abundant plant life situated along the approximately 12 miles of hiking and biking trails that paint the FVS Prairie, studying both field ecology principles and traditional biological concepts like cellular structure and photosynthesis. As part of the pioneering academic curriculum, ninth-graders are also diving deep into the literature, history, and art that define the American West.  

An innovative mix of sustainable living and academic enrichment, the new curriculum – inspired by Fountain Valley School’s inaugural Headmaster Francis Froelicher – was introduced by the School’s ninth and current Head of School Megan Harlan to build upon FVS’s rich history, unique setting, and place in society. “I envisioned a curriculum that would enable students to physically exit the classroom and immerse themselves in the nature around them,” said Harlan, now in her second year as head at the independent boarding and day school. “It’s vital that students obtain the advanced skills required to expertly address future needs and better understand their role in practicing environmental stewardship.”

Throughout students’ four years of high school at Fountain Valley, science faculty continually emphasize place-based, experiential learning to build valuable research skills and encourage scientific discourse. As students advance from grade level to grade level, they participate in increasingly complex quadrat studies to examine species richness and evenness, study the impact of urban development and storm drain runoff on the natural world, and more. 

“Our Advanced science students utilize the nearby pond for water quality assessments, take macroinvertebrate samplings, and deeply explore the diverse flora and fauna inherent in the land,” explains Science Department Chair Danielle Llewelyn. “We’ve also conducted rudimentary tree measuring to determine how much carbon our trees on campus can capture, how much water they hold or prevent from evaporating, and how shade prevents the ground temperature from rising.” 

Before purchasing the land in 1929, Fountain Valley School’s campus served as a large ranch with polo fields, stables, and small residences for ranch hands. Today, the School continues the practice of ranching and land management, with 150 acres dedicated to irrigation, 100 for hay production, and 50 for livestock grazing. For Land Manager Tyson Phillips, day-to-day responsibilities include a comprehensive schedule consisting of guest lecturing and ranching, with FVS’s flourishing English and Western riding programs playing a large part in the latter. 

“For every 100 pounds of live animal body weight, approximately three pounds of dry hay is needed per day,” explains Phillips. “Through the use of rotational grazing, we generate ample forage to support half of our herd of approximately 70 riding horses, and fulfill the needs of the other half with our on-site hay production,” he says. 

FVS students routinely choose Phillips as a community mentor for their senior Capstone projects focused on ranching and sustainability. The freshman Class of 2027 has followed suit, participating in ranching, welding, fencework, pasture and land management lessons, and water use discussions alongside Phillips throughout the current academic year. And, on Friday, February 23, Phillips will present to introductory horticulture students the process of converting food and horse manure into compost for field regeneration. The first of many collaborations among junior and senior horticulture students and FVS staff, the class has already begun collaborating with the School’s grounds team to rejuvenate an existing community garden with plot expansions, composting, and upgraded irrigation systems while learning various farming methods and cultivation techniques. 

Integrating the School’s sustainability practices with students’ education creates a unique and engaging learning environment that will serve FVS graduates well in managing the issues that are part of their future. 

 

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Founded in 1930, Fountain Valley School of Colorado is a boarding and day school for grades 9-12. Situated on 1,100 acres of rolling prairie in Colorado Springs, the School provides a rigorous, global curriculum in academics, arts, athletics, and the outdoors to develop young adults who are courageous, open-minded, self-reliant, curious, and compassionate. Enrollment is approximately 240 students from 23 countries, 21 states and the Pikes Peak Region. www.fvs.edu

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