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Environmental Learning for Kids (ELK)

  • Environmental Learning for Kids (ELK)
  • 14460 E 50th Avenue
  • Denver, CO 80239
  • 303-371-8658
  • 1996
  • Taylor Ruffin
  • Education Coordinator/AmeriCorps VISTA

Program Description

ELK reaches out to students who have been traditionally overlooked and under-encouraged in science and science-related careers, including youth of color and females.

ELK opens new doors of opportunity by engaging and mentoring youth through science education, outdoor experiences, and leadership development programs that provide a real-life context for learning. Youth experience Colorado's natural world, increase their academic skills, become involved in their neighborhoods, and get exposure to careers in the field of natural resources and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). ELK youth grow into stewards and engaged citizens, while cultivating strong educational values to ensure high school and college graduation.

School-Based and Community Programs: ELK offers a wide selection of science and natural resource programs to public and private schools and community groups in Denver, Adams, and Arapahoe counties for grades K-12. All programs are correlated to the Colorado Model Content Standards and model effective teaching. An education plan is available with each program to help teachers integrate further learning and expand knowledge of current topics provided by ELK's professional science program staff.

Denver Youth Naturally (DYN): DYN, ELK's core program for youth ages 5-18, is a year-long, multi-year learning experience that immerses students in science education and leadership development through hands-on field activities, local excursions, and overnight camping experiences. DYN offers 3-5 activities each month, including 3-4 overnight trips every year. DYN youth also participate in stewardship projects, giving youth a sense of ownership and an understanding of how they play a part in the continued preservation of their community. With long-term mentoring by science professionals and older YNR youth, DYN participants find the support necessary to succeed in school and discover new doors of opportunity opening around them.

Youth in Natural Resources (YNR): ELK works hard to prepare its youth for college and the workplace through YNR. YNR is for youth ages 14-25 who are ready to explore career options and gain work experience in the natural resource and science fields. YNR staff facilitate college campus visits and assist youth with the college and financial aid application process. Through partnerships with the Colorado Division of Wildlife, Mile High Youth Corps, City of Denver Parks & Recreation, and the National Park Service, students are provided opportunities for meaningful summer employment.

Developing leadership skills is an integral component of the YNR program. The Leadership Corps meets monthly and tackles life issues such as family, peer pressure, and school challenges, in addition to career aspirations, graduating high school, and going to college. Older YNR students share their knowledge of science and the ethics of community stewardship through mentoring younger students in the DYN program.

Learning Environmental Activities for Families (LEAF): Our family program, LEAF, enables families to enjoy healthy outdoor activities with their ELK student while establishing strong family bonds, and strengthening the support system for students to succeed. Adults learn along with their children on interactive, outdoor science programs in positive, academic environments.

Success Stories

If it wasn't for ELK I wouldn't be as motivated to succeed. To me, ELK is a second family, a place that makes goals and dreams reality for all the students. It is a place where we grow to be great people and it pushes us to go further in life.

- Deztani Sandoval, ELK alum

ELK has given me, and continues to give me, the tools to help and encourage me to keep moving on during hard times in life. They let me know that I can become a useful source in our community and that I am important.

- Dondre Smallwood, ELK alum

ELK taught me that you do not need to be rich in order to give back to your community you need time, dedication, love, passion, people, and the hope that one day your community will flourish and have the proper resources.

- Cody Joseph Jackson, ELK alum

ELK teaches students about the real world, and we always have a great time. ELK has inspired me to chase after my dream of becoming an astronaut. The support from everyone is amazing!

- Chris Urias, ELK alum

Services Provided

  • Academic enrichment/tutoring/study skills
  • Arts and cultural
  • Career exploration and counseling/internships
  • College admissions guidance and counseling
  • College fairs/campus visits
  • Community service/service hours
  • Financial aid advising/FAFSA completion
  • Leadership development
  • Mentoring
  • Parent/family services
  • Science, tech, engineering, & math (STEM)


Race & Ethnicity

  • American Indian or Native Alaskan: 1%
  • White: 3%
  • Asian or Pacific Islander: 1%
  • Hispanic/Latino: 48%
  • Other: 22%
  • African American: 25%

Education Level and
Number of Students

  • High School: 365
  • Middle School: 3048
  • Elementary School: 3048
  • Post-secondary: 41
  • Non-traditional: 0

Populations Served

  • Academically At-risk
  • ESL Students


  • Between 50% and 75%

Colleges Attended
by Alumni

  • Colorado School of Mines
  • Colorado State University-Fort Collins
  • University of Colorado Boulder
  • University of Denver

Matriculation & Completion

  • 4-yr College Matriculation: 100%