Teton Science Schools

Educating for a Vibrant World

The History of Teton Science Schools

Celebrating 50 Years of Teton Science Schools from Teton Science Schools on Vimeo.

In the 1960s Ted Major, a science teacher, thought students would best learn about the natural sciences out in nature - a novel concept at the time. By immersing students in relatively undisturbed ecosystems, he felt they would gain a deep, lasting knowledge of the interconnection and interdependence of all life. When Ted became a 7th grade science teacher in Jackson, Wyoming in 1966, he saw the two national parks and national forest as an ideal setting for his vision.

In the summer of 1967, Ted began an experiment to expand the classroom into the outdoors. Twelve high school students spent six weeks working on research projects and taking field trips around the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. It was a success, and thus Field Education was born. Over the next four years, classes were added, more age groups included and demand rose. But Ted’s dream was bigger. He hoped to establish a year-round school and looked to Grand Teton National Park for help.

In December 1973, under a lease agreement with the park, the Grand Teton Environmental Education Center moved into the Elbo Ranch near Kelly, Wyoming. Ted’s dream had a permanent home. The ranch is now the Kelly Campus of Teton Science Schools (TSS).

Since then, TSS has grown to encompass seven program areas across five campuses that span both sides of the Tetons. The first program area added was the Graduate Program, in 1994. The Graduate Program provides college graduates a year of coursework and practical teaching experience, which is applicable to a master’s degree.

The Sense of Place Curriculum is the foundation for Teton Science Schools’ programs. In 1997 it became the Journeys Curriculum and schools implemented it across the region. Out of that success came Journeys School in 2001 -- an independent, PreK-12 college preparatory school.

In 1999 Teton Science Schools expanded into eco-tourism when it acquired Great Plains Wildlife Institute and renamed it Wildlife Expeditions. TSS began to educate tourists who would not otherwise associate with the school during short visits to the valley.

TSS purchased the Mad Dog Ranch near Wilson, Wyoming in 2001 and it became the Wilson Campus. It housed staff and provided a temporary campus for the nascent Journeys School.

The fifth program area, the Teacher Learning Center, was established in 2003. The Teacher Learning Center provides schoolteachers with a wide variety of educational and professional development opportunities centered on innovative place-based education.

The Teton Research Institute (TRI) was also established 2003 as the scientific research branch of Teton Science Schools. The TRI works to support ecological stewardship through research and educational outreach for public and private partners.

In 2004, Teton Science Schools acquired 880 acres one mile west of Jackson. Construction created the Jackson Campus. It houses central administration, Journeys School, the Teacher Learning Center, the Teton Research Institute and Field Education buildings.

In 2011 TSS was presented with a proposal to merge with the Teton Valley Community School in Victor, Idaho. This was attractive for several reasons. It presented an opportunity to respond to a growing need for education in Idaho. It was also a way to develop a richer and more inclusive approach to education by working in a nearby, but nonetheless culturally distinct, region.

Ted Major’s simple vision has grown into a complex organization of seven program areas. Starting with twelve students in 1967, TSS now teaches more than 15,000 people annually. They come from across the nation and around the world and span the spectrum of ages.

Teton Science Schools has consistently set the standard for environmental education, innovative pedagogy, curriculum development and scientific research. TSS is now a nationally and internationally recognized leader in place-based education. It reaches a diverse and growing audience to achieve its mission to inspire curiosity, engagement and leadership through transformative place-based education.

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