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Aspen's Blog

by Guest Blogger Melissa Taylor from http://imaginationsoup.net

Make a Simple Machine

It started with a lever. Yesterday.

Today, it's a wheel and axel.

The kids sit on the floor or stand at tables, totally focused on the project at hand -- building a simple machine using K'NEX. Their teacher, Mrs. Kelsey Sullivan, observes the engaged kids saying, "They love it. They're learning, cooperating, and can't wait to do this."

Each cooperative group of students has a sheet of instructions. Together they gather the K'NEX materials and follow the assembly directions. But in this scenario, Mrs. Sullivan won't help them, at least not for anything other than to snap in tricky K'NEX pieces. This means students are forced to persevere and problem solve, something Mrs. Sullivan loves to see. "They're learning how to problem solve," she explains.

First, the groups work together to build a handcart. After that, kids stay in the groups and get to choose what to build next: a Ferris wheel, a wheel barrow, or their own invention that also uses the wheel and axel.

So many fun options, right!?

This is learning at its best: fun, engaging, purposeful, hands-on, and cooperative.

At home, the kids are building their own inventions. Their projects must have at least two simple machines and solve a problem. For example, one student is making something to help old people tie their shoes without bending over. (Because knees.)

Mrs. Sullivan tells me that she loves how this activity is inspiring girls, too.

So what are simple machines?

If you're like me and it's been a few years since you were in 2nd grade, here are the basics . . . Simple machines are:

  • Levers
  • Pulleys
  • Wheel & Axles
  • Inclined Planes, including Wedge and Screw
  • Gears

These multiply force, making work easier.

And what about K'NEX?

K'NEX is a toy system of parts and pieces that snap together to create practically anything. From vehicles to tall buildings, this is a valuable STEM tool (aka. toy) that not only improves hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills, problem solving, spatial awareness, and imagination, but can be used in the classroom for many educational purposes like the one happening in Mrs. Sullivan's classroom.

Pairing science with K'NEX is something you won't just see in 2nd grade but also in Aspen's new STEAM Lab. Stay tuned for more exciting possibilities for learning!

Read more of Melissa Taylor's blogs at http://imaginationsoup.net

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by Nicole Kruse, 8th Grade Language Arts Teacher and AEI Coach

For many of us, it's a little uncomfortable to discuss money, particularly with our children. There's many reasons for this: it's too personal for us; we don't want our children to worry about money; we don't know enough about our finances to discuss it with our children; our spouse takes care of the finances; we're too busy; there's never a good time; our kids are easily distracted; we don't know how to even bring the subject up and the list goes on and on.

There really is an easy, painless way to bring up the topic of money. And there are some simple questions to get you started. When you're driving in the car or at the dinner table or walking the dog, ask your child one of these questions:

1. Do you know where money comes from?

Listen to their answers. Oftentimes they truly have no idea where it actually comes from. And then begin a discussion about how you earn money. Discuss what you do at your job and why you get paid to do what you do. You don't have to get into the nitty gritty details of your personal finances, in fact, that may be too overwhelming and you may lose them. And you might not want to share how much you make unless you want that number shared with all of their friends at lunch or in the classroom.

2. Why do you think we don't buy you everything that you want?

Listen to their answers. They may know, but they may just think you're being mean or cruel or unfair, or any of the other choice words our kids call us when they don't get what they want. Having this conversation when our children are calm and level-headed may help diffuse some future conversations when our children are being irrational because they need that toy, or those boots, or that coat right now! This can be a great opportunity to begin the discussion of a budget. Better yet, bring your child to the grocery store with you (when you have an extra hour or two!). Let them know how much you have budgeted to spend at the store and how you came up with that number. Let them help you choose what your family needs from the store.

It really can be this simple to get the conversation going. The important part is to let your kids talk. Once you ask them the question, wait for their response. They may not have an answer, and that's ok, but let them talk first. Really listen to what they have to say. And go from there. Now, more than ever, we need to start these conversations.

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Co-chairs for Grand Day 2016

Grand Day 2016 Co-Chairs, Linda Chain and Mike and Nancy Connell

by Mallory Sussman, Development Manager

Each Thanksgiving we have the opportunity to join our friends, family and loved ones to share a meal and pose the question, "What are you grateful for?"

Here at Aspen Academy, it is our Thanksgiving tradition to invite our Grandparents and Special Friends to join us for a fun-filled day of learning, love and gratitude.

The practice of expressing gratitude – of acknowledging the people, moments and memories we are grateful for – has an incredibly powerful impact, paritcularly in a school setting. Psychologist Jeffrey Froh studied how the practice of expressing gratitude in middle school transformed students' lives and found: "expressing gratitude was not only associated with appreciating close relationships, it was also related to feeling better about life and school... the results were clear: higher levels of optimism, increased life satisfaction, and decreased negative feelings."

Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough have also found physical benefits to the condition of gratitude suggesting, "gratitude strenghthens the immune system, lowers blood pressure, reduces symptoms of illness and makes us less bothered by aches and pains. It also encourages us to exercise more and take better care of our health."

When our grandparents and special friends gather together in our auditorium next week, our students will proudly show them what we at are grateful for here at Aspen Academy - opportunities to learn and grow, to convene with our community, to find our voices, express ourselves, and to celebrate our accomplishments with our loved ones.

Our auditorium is the perfect venue to demonstrate our gratitude, and together we can transform this space into something even greater by installing:

  • Individual theater seats, increasing our capacity and creating an authentic theater experience
  • Curtains and acoustic treatments to transform our stage into a state-of-the-art performance venue where every student can be seen and heard

We are so grateful for the generosity of our community – you make it possible for us to continue to improve the expereince of our students, faculty and staff, and families each time they set foot on our campus.

To express your gratitude by supporting our auditorium renovation, please click here (and direct your gift to "Building the Future") or contact Mallory Sussman, Development Manager at Mallory.sussman@aspenacademy.org.

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by Guest Blogger Melissa Taylor from http://imaginationsoup.net

Imagine you're in the world's coolest toy store, only the toys are innovative and high-tech learning "toys": kits for circuitry, LEGO robotics, KNex building materials, a 3D printer, and the list goes on. This is what students will discover in Aspen Academy's new and improved STEAM and Innovation Lab.

Tables are wagon-wheeled around a central hub for makers, innovators, and designers. Computer monitors will be on arms to the tables are open for exploration. Kids at each station of tables work with a partner on the 8 systems of technology:

  • scientific data analysis
  • computer graphics
  • mechanics and structures
  • alternative and renewable energy
  • digital communications
  • robotics and control tech
  • circuitry
  • software engineering

In the STEAM Lab, Innovation instructor Chris Lazartic provides the materials and curriculum framework. The kids use the materials to do the following each class session:





Lazartic says, "I want the STEAM lab to be the most exciting place in the school and this new lab system is going to make that happen."

Interestingly enough, while the kids will be learning so much, it's actually not about what they're learning but more about how they're learning. Because process, collaboration, and communication are all essential 21st century skills and important components of this experience.

"This is so important," says Lazartic. "It's proven in any organization schools and business that creativity and innovation are key factors to success. We wanted to provide a place where that could happen every day in our school."

So what would a typical class experience look like?

Let's say kids are working on a LEGO EV3 solar energy project to create a robotic base that aligns with the sun to get the most power. Sounds hard, right? Yes, but get this -- different groups work on different parts of this project, just like in real life. One group works on the solar part, another works on the robotics piece, and so forth.

Students get to decide how to learn what they need to know to accomplish the learning goal. They can use the online learning launchers modules, a 3rd party curriculum, research on Internet, a book, or they might just dive and experiment. Because choice and ownership are important to this process -- kids get to decide how they traverse the project and that creates enthusiasm and motivation.

Then, the partners will eventually collaborate with the larger group to accomplish their big goal, to get the the robotic base aligned with the sun.

And get this -- any teacher can use the modules in any Aspen classroom. Teachers can pull up the modules on their classroom screens and do things that don't require the supplies or they can take their entire class and learn in the Innovation Lab with its plethora of resources.

Please take a peek at the lab soon and be sure to check out the scope and sequence of learning on the far wall. I guarantee you'll be so excited about what your kids get to do that you'll probably wish you were a student at Aspen, too.

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by Nicole Kruse, 8th Grade Language Arts Teacher and AEI Coach

Whether you believe it or not, your children are constantly watching you and modeling your behavior. They hear what you say. They sense your emotions. And they take notice of how you spend your money. They are aware of how many times you run to Starbucks in a week. They notice when you buy yourself a new fill-in-the-blank. They count how many gifts they receive for their birthday and Christmas and Valentine's Day and their sister's birthday, and Fourth of July and any other ridiculous holiday where we buy them gifts. So why are we surprised when they demand something? Why are we surprised when they throw a fit in the toy aisle at Target when they can't get the new super cool toy they've wanted forever? Why are we surprised when they demand Chick-Fil-A and not the dinner you cooked for them? It shouldn't come as a shock, but it always does: I didn't raise my daughter to be spoiled. I taught my son how to ask nicely. My daughter knows that she can't have everything- why is she acting this way?

You are your child's number one teacher and role model. This is important for us to remember for so many reasons, particularly when it comes to finances. Children observe our spending habits and assume those same habits. They watch us swipe the credit card over and over and over again like it's no big deal. And if we don't talk about that fancy little magical card that gives us everything we want, it becomes just that- a magical card that gives us everything we want. Unless we let our children in behind the scenes of paying the bill for that card or showing them the bank statement and explain the deposits and withdrawals to them, it will continue to be a magical card. Unless we have the conversations about how the money is earned, they will continue to believe money grows on trees. Unless we give them some responsibility when it comes to budgeting money, they will continue to lack appreciation for the value of a dollar.

Below are some strategies of how to start.

1. Give your kids a weekly or a monthly allowance. Make it clear what that allowance is for: Starbucks, toys, treats, games on the IPad- anything not required by parents to support their children for life: breakfast, lunch and dinner, a roof over their head, clothes on their body, toothpaste- the essentials. Any extras should be paid out of their allowance. When they're out, they're out. Let them make mistakes and blow their budget when they're young so they learn the importance of budgeting their money.

2. Offer to match any money they save at the end of the week or month. If their allowance is $10 a week and they save $5, that you'll give them an extra $5 at the end of the month. A simple lesson in compound interest.

3. As entrepreneurs, we love new, innovative ideas. Celebrate your child's creative ideas to earn money. Negotiate with them when they have an idea- don't be too quick to say no in this aspect.

Start here. Start somewhere. Start now. Start small. Just start.

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by Mallory Sussman, Development Manager

To schedule your Colorado Gives Day contribution TODAY please click here

On Tuesday, December 6, Aspen Academy will participate in Colorado Gives Day - a statewide movement to celebrate and increase philanthropy in Colorado through online giving.

At the Purposeful Planning Institute's 2013 Rendevous, Dr. Stephen Post explained how giving can not only create a significant positive impact in the lives of beneficiaries, but also in the lives of patrons:

"When the happiness, security and well-being of others become real to us, we come into our own. Creativity, meaning, resilience, health and even longevity can be enhanced as a surprising byproduct of contributing to the lives of others."[1]

Community strength and service is an integral part of our three-legged stool at Aspen Academy and on Tuesday, December 6 we have an opportunity to demonstrate our commitment to ourselves, our students, and to one another.

You may be thinking, that's great, but why would we accept contributions to Investing in Excellence, our 2016-17 Annual Fund and Reinvesting in Enterprise, the Class of 2017's Legacy Gift, through Colorado Gives? Because Community First Foundation (the host of Colorado Gives Day), in partnership with 1st Bank, has created a $1 million incentive fund! Every participating non-profit will receive a portion of these funds.

Help us unlock additional resources for Aspen Academy by scheduling your contribution today! You can even make your gift a family affair, by introducing your students to philanthropy through Kids for Colorado Gives.

For more information please contact Mallory Sussman, Development Manager at Mallory.sussman@aspenacademy.org.

[1] Philanthropy Benefits the Giver Too, With "Helper's High" and "Giver's Glow" – Denver Post, 2013 http://www.denverpost.com/2013/08/09/philanthropy-...

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by Nicole Kruse, 8th Grade Language Arts Teacher and AEI Coach

As adults, how many of you remember getting home from trick-or-treating, laying out your candy and separating the candy based on your favorites. My favorites included the Reese's, M&Ms and Snickers. My brother enjoyed the Starbursts and Skittles. All candy is not created equal. And so, unbeknownst to my brother and me, our first economics lessons began.

Incorporating financial literacy and economics lessons into your everyday moments is easier than you think- and your children won't even know you're "teaching" them anything!

  • Comparison shopping for costumes. Allow your children to do some comparison shopping before buying their costumes. Or better yet, give your kids a budget and let them figure it out. Perhaps they'll decide to keep the money and create a costume from materials you have around the house.
  • Coupon Clipping for Candy. Buying Halloween candy for trick-or-treaters can get pricey, depending on what neighborhood you live in and how many trick-or-treaters you get at your door. In fact, according to the National Retail Federation, Americans spend $2.5 billion on treats for Halloween! Have your kids help you clip coupons. Make it a game- whoever can save you the most can keep the difference. Or, take your kids with you when you buy the candy and have them figure out what candy has the best value. How many pieces are in a bag? What is the cost per piece of candy?
  • Trade Cash for Candy. Have your children calculate what the candy is worth and trade it in for an equal amount in cash. Or even simpler, weigh the candy and set an amount you're willing to give per pound. It's a win-win! Our children don't need pounds of candy at their disposal and you can share a little economics with them at the same time. Perhaps you can even donate the candy to a shelter or send them to our soldiers overseas. Now that's a win-win-win!
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by Mallory Sussman, Development Manager

The late Italian economist, Vilfredo Pareto, pioneered the Pareto Principle, also known as the 80/20 Rule: "80% of the outputs results from 20% of the inputs."

While this law is most commonly encountered in the for-profit space, it is also has significant implications in the non-profit sector. Non-profit organizations often find the bulk of the contributions they receive come from a small percentage of their donors. Perry Marshall found that the principle can be exponentially applied (i.e. the top 20% of the top 20% are responsible for 64% of total contributions or 80% of 80%). This realization can have significant impacts on an organization's bottom line, but is not the application we are going to explore today.

This principle can also be applied to a non-profit's fundraising strategy: the amount of time (approximately 20%) and effort a typical organization spends soliciting the bulk of their contributions (approximately 80%).

This principle begs the questions: how efficient is an organization's fundraising strategy? What's the trick to breaking through this trend?

For us, the answer is simple: at Aspen we start each day by tackling the most impactful tasks first, in an effort to increase our efficiency and maximize our results. The key to our strategy is working to determine the tasks with the greatest potential return on investment for our school, and recognizing that theses most critical tasks can change daily.

On Monday mornings, we avoid solicitation calls and meetings, because we know our families are just gearing up for the rest of their week – getting back into their regular routines following weekend activities, catching up on items that were left unresolved last week and preparing for the week to come.

We find that Tuesday and Wednesday mornings are great days for cultivation. We enjoy reaching out to our families after they have had the chance to settle into their routine, but early enough in the week to follow up on feedback in a timely manner.

Thursday and Friday mornings are spent writing thank you notes and content for our communications channels, from our newsletter and development blog to collateral materials like our Annual Fund brochure.

Starting our day with these high priority tasks not only allows us to work more efficiently, but also keeps our goal – continually moving our community toward our vision of developing and inspiring extraordinary leaders who make a positive and lasting impact – at the forefront of our decision making. The resulting treat? Witnessing our kids learn, grow and flourish.

Additional Resources

Analyzing Fundraising Strategies through the 80/20 Principle by Ian Adair

Pareto Principle: How to Use It To Dramatically Grow Your Business by Dave Lavinsky

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by Mallory Sussman, Development Manager

It may seem obvious, but the expression of gratitude is perhaps the most critical component of a successful fundraising program. According to a national survey conducted by Target Analytics in 2015, only 29% of first-time donors renewed their gifts. When donors are asked why they stop giving to an organization, 13% said it was because they were not thanked.

In last week's exploration of the Donor Bill of Rights, we found that acknowledgement and recognition should be considered rights of our donors. The process and form for acknowledgment and recognition varies from organization to organization and donor to donor, and should feel meaningful for everyone involved.

At Aspen our commitment to our families runs deeper than this obligation of rights – we genuinely believe it is our responsibility to embody our only rule: Be Kind. Recognizing the contributions of time, talent and resources each of our community members makes throughout the year is inherent to this rule.

This year, we are celebrating your contributions to Investing in Excellence (or, if you are an 8th grade family, a contribution to Reinvesting in Enterprise, the Class of 2017 Legacy Gift) during Annual Fund Thank You Week, October 24 – 28, 2016. Our theme is, "Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice, That's What Aspen is Made Of" and throughout the week members of our Annual Fund Committee and Advancement Team will be handing out tokens of our appreciation.

Though receiving gratitude is a part of the fundraising process, we know that the anticipation of gratitude is not what drives our community to give. So as an Advancement Team, we challenge ourselves to discover "the why". Your "why". Admissions asks: why do you want to join our community? Development asks: why do you give to our community?

We can educate you on all of the incredible programs your contributions support; we can offer you practical reasons (such as tax deductions) and passionate reasons (such as the impact your contributions will have on the future of our children), but what we really want to know is your reason. So we started with our 2016-17 Annual Fund Co-Chairs, Steve Pougnet and Jackie Watters, to see why they decided to lead this charge:

"Aspen Academy is a very special place, which provides an extraordinary learning environment for all. I volunteered to co-chair the annual fund because raising these funds enhances this environment and will impact all Aspen's students and faculty." – Steve Pougnet (Beckham and Julia, 5)

"Aspen Academy is passionate about providing high quality education at a fair and competitive price for our children. My goal is to enrich and expand that experience for all Aspen Academy staff, faculty, families and students through Investing in Excellence, our Annual Fund." – Jackie Watters (Jack, 4)

It is our goal to provide this extraordinary learning environment and to enrich your student's and your family's lives. Armed with the knowledge of what drives you, we can allocate funds towards the efforts that mean the most to you, and we can share our gratitude in a genuine way.

If you have not had the opportunity to give to our Annual Fund, there is still time! Please visit www.aspenacademy.org/support-aspen or contact Mallory Sussman, Development Manager at Mallory.Sussman@AspenAcademy.org for more information.

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by Mallory Sussman, Development Manager

The Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) defines philanthropy as a voluntary commitment to the common good. With this in mind, in 1993, CASE created a set of parameters to guide the relationship between a philanthropist (or donor) and a non-profit organization, known as the Donor Bill of Rights.[1] This bill of rights is comprised of ten tenets, addressing: the donor's right to information (on an organization's mission, governance, capacity, financial statements), assurance a donor's contributions are utilized as directed, the donor's right to privacy, donor acknowledgement and recognition, and the donor's open-ended opportunity to ask questions and receive prompt and truthful responses throughout the donation process.

When these rights were established, sharing an organization's mission meant making a phone call, sending a mailer, or attending an event – a person to person or a person to print interaction. Getting the word out about a cause was both time-consuming and costly. Obtaining an organization's financial statements was only possible in print, upon request, and often required a trip to the organization's headquarters. These rights were defined twenty three years ago, prior to the proliferation of the internet. The evolution of technology has significantly reduced barriers of donor access to information and has standardized non-profit practices regarding information sharing. As a result, many of the applications of the Donor Bill of Rights have become outdated.

However, the themes upon which these rights were created remain relevant today:

Donor Bill of Rights (CASE et al, 1993)


1.To be informed of the organization's mission, of the way the organization intends to use donated resources, and of its capacity to use donations effectively for their intended purposes.

Donor Education

Organizational Capacity

2.To be informed of the identity of those serving on the organization's governing board and to expect the board to exercise prudent judgement in its stewardship responsibilities.


3.To have access to the organization's most recent financial statements.


4.To be assured their gifts will be used for the purposes for which they were given.


5.To receive appropriate acknowledgement and recognition.

Donor Recognition

6.To be assured that information about their donation is handled with respect and confidentiality to the extent provided by the law.


7.To expect that all relationships with individuals representing organizations of interest to the donor will be professional in nature.


8.To be informed whether those seeking donations are volunteers, employees of the organization or hired solicitors.


9.To have the opportunity for their names to be deleted from mailing lists that an organization may intend to share.


10.To feel free to ask questions when making a donation and to receive prompt, truthful and forthright answers.

Donor Education

Many of these themes have become standards of practice in the non-profit space and are necessary for a successful development program. Donors must develop both an understanding of and a trust in hard work an organization is doing to make the world a better place. And donors must be treated with kindness as they strive to do good by lending their support.

We take these ideas to heart at Aspen, but we do not stop at a linear Donor Bill of Rights. We view our relationship with our families as a fluid one, with a singular goal: a brighter future for our children. In Rethinking and Revising the 'Donor Bill of Rights' the DeBoskey Group redefines this relationship, between donor and organization, as a strategic partnership, grounded not in rights, but in principles: mutual consideration, transparency, flexibility, confidentiality, and clarity, where both parties are providers and beneficiaries of each tenet.

This shift is pronounced: no longer a bill of rights, to be observed and upheld for the primary benefit of one party (the donor) by another party (the organization), but a slate of ideas that assert a different, more equitable balance of responsibilities as donors and organizations strive to achieve a common goal, together. In other words: "donors and nonprofits should expect... that the relationship between donors and nonprofits is a partnership – where each party's needs and expectations for achieving internal and external objectives are considered."

Ultimately, at Aspen Academy we know that the third leg of our stool, community strength and service, is not possible to achieve with a linear perspective. So, we adhere instead to our core values: do good, work hard and make the world a better place. We strive to apply these values at every opportunity – including our relationships with our families, faculty and staff, and community members. We offer an abundance of resources on the programs we run, from our newsletter and website to print and social media. We take the time to engage our families over coffee and at community events. We disclose our audit results each fiscal year. We acknowledge the incredible support of our community via the annual report, the Investing in Excellence bulletin board and banner, through giving societies and Annual Fund Thank You Week (coming up October 24-28!). And while we take pleasure in serving our community to the best of our ability, we hold our families accountable and we ask them to do their part.

[1] The text of the Donor Bill of Rights was developed by the American Association of Fundraising Counsel (AAFRC), Association of Healthcare Philanthropy (AHP), Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE), and the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), and adopted in November 1993.

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