Impact Giving | A Classroom With a View

In this feature from Mountaineer Magazine, read about the unexpected impact of a Mountaineers scholarship.
Mckenzie Campbell Davies Mckenzie Campbell Davies
Annual Giving Manager
December 31, 2023
Impact Giving | A Classroom With a View
Kelsey at the summit of Mt. Rainier. All photos courtesy of Kelsey Hoffman.

In a North Seattle public school, 65 miles from Mt. Rainier, Kelsey Hoffman’s classroom is engaged in an unusual last-day-of-school activity.

Days before her Rainier summit attempt, Ms. Hoffman’s students are exploring and unpacking her gear. “WHAT is THIS?!” a student exclaims, holding up a crampon. Another is wearing a 75-liter pack while doing pushups. Pickets, rope, and purged stuff sacks are scattered across the carpet. In the background of the excitement and curiosity, Mt. Rainier is visible through the classroom’s third story window.

Kelsey Hoffman is a special education teacher with Seattle Public Schools and she loves her job. While she sometimes fantasizes about being a mountain guide, working with these students is what she lives for. “These are my kind of humans,” Kelsey says with a grin. “If I walk into a classroom and there’s a kid sitting backwards in their chair, that one’s mine.”

Kelsey works with youth who need constructive assistance to navigate social and academic environments. She learned early in her career that spending time in nature allows her to show up for her students as her best self. “It’s where my brain and body are most aligned. It’s where I feel connected,” she shares. “It’s where I go to reflect, to heal, to find inspiration, and to be artistic.”

Having exhausted all avenues for exploring trails solo, Kelsey wanted to build more technical skills and find an outdoor community. Living and working in one of the most expensive cities in the country means there isn’t much room in her budget for extras like a Mountaineers course. She applied for – and was awarded – a scholarship from The Mountaineers Access Fund for Basic Alpine Climbing, Wilderness Navigation, and Wilderness First Aid.

“Before this year it was ‘get to the nearest outdoor space, conserve gas, don’t take days off.’ The scholarship gave me access to the Basic course, which also gave me access to a community. I can borrow stuff and barter for gear. We can carpool. It didn’t just cover the class; it was my introduction to a group of people that made things infinitely more accessible,” Kelsey explained. “Someone’s act of giving has rippled through my life in ways I just didn’t expect.”

Rainier Drawing High Quality Photo cropped.jpgA drawing of Mt. Rainier by one of Kelsey's students. 

Bridging non-traditional classrooms

During the school year, Kelsey felt like a conduit between the learning environment she was experiencing at The Mountaineers and the one she cultivates with her colleagues and students. “The Leadership Halo gets talked about a lot at The Mountaineers. We do things because we see someone do it and assume they are right. It’s not a term I’ve heard in the teaching world, but I see it all the time. We need everyone on the team to give input and feedback so that our kids get the best services.”

In addition to the courses, Kelsey was also an avid attendee of our donor-funded Leadership Development Series. “There was one about emotional first aid that was so applicable in the classroom. We can get so focused on getting kids out of crisis that we forget to step back and look around; it’s really about preventing crisis. My students aren’t going to engage in learning new skills if they can’t ask for help, and you can’t ask for help if you don’t feel safe. It’s the rope skills that get us on to the glacier, but it’s our social emotional skills that get us to the summit and get us home safe.”

Kelsey is also inspired to bring her expertise in adaptive learning to The Mountaineers. She has stepped into several volunteer roles and hopes to build accessibility into more programs.

Mountain-sized goals made accessible

Kelsey was in special education when she was young, so she can relate to some of the challenges that her students face in school and life. “I wish when I was younger that I had known teachers who were mountaineers. I didn’t know anyone who spent time outdoors who was also bad at academics. The special ed classroom wasn’t fun or cool. I want that to be different for my kids.”

Her experience as an adult learner helps her connect real-world scenarios to the skills she teaches. “I was scared that I would get into this Basic course and find the content inaccessible. Some things were more challenging. I have to use workarounds and be more thoughtful about organization. In order to be successful, I knew I had to show up to every session and practice in different modalities.” Kelsey applies the same concept to her classroom. When she asks her students to do something really difficult for eight hours a day, they’re encouraged to engage in different approaches for success. “I brought examples back to my students, like ‘You know how we color code your stuff? Here’s how I color code my prusiks!' I can show them that to reach my goal of summiting Mt. Rainier, I start by just showing up to lectures and climbs.”

Achievement is just the start

Kelsey had spent a lot of time thinking about standing at the summit of Mt. Rainier. When it started to feel possible, she was excited to share her goals with her class. Kelsey’s students learned about the geology of Rainier, talked about climate change, and did ‘training challenges,’ all under the guise of helping Ms. Hoffman get ready for mountaineering. After unpacking her goals and her processes with her students for months, it was poetic that her climb would take place right at the end of the school year, and fitting that her students had a chance to explore the gear that would go with her.

On July 3, 2023 Kelsey summited the tallest peak in the state. It was difficult, and she did it. “To put all of this time and energy into a physical goal and to feel this uncomplicated feeling of total success – I’ve never done anything that had such an in-the-moment sense of accomplishment.”

IMG_3226.jpgKelsey sending love to her K-8 students others in the summit register on Mt. Rainier. 

At the summit, Kelsey felt a deep sense of being part of something bigger. She has the classic ‘raised ice ax at the summit’ photo, but in her memory the experience will always be about being roped to other people. Her note in the summit register thanked everyone who helped her get there, with a special shout out to her “LS K-8 kids.”

While the stoke of her big climb is already fading, the skills and community that Kelsey built on her way to the summit continue to refresh and support her. This has proven to be especially true as Kelsey has just started her twelfth year of teaching and already encountered some weighty challenges. “I believe that my work in the world is to be a really good special ed teacher,” she reminds herself. She realizes that goal each time she comes back from her time outdoors as a calmer person and a better human.

Scholarships for Mountaineers memberships, courses, and activities are one way that our community reduces barriers to belonging in the outdoors. For some people, financial assistance to access outdoor education can have a ripple effect throughout their life. Find out more information or apply for a scholarship at

Help people access the natural world and protect the outdoor experience with a donation to The Mountaineers at

This article originally appeared in our winter 2024 issue of Mountaineer magazine. To view the original article in magazine form and read more stories from our publication, visit our magazine archive.