About Us



From the first moment I stepped onto campus, I was struck by the genuine warmth of the Emerald community. The students greeted me with confidence and, in the classroom, it was readily apparent that Emerald cultivates students’ interests while guiding each child to reach his or her full potential. The level of care and commitment demonstrated by the faculty truly sets Emerald apart from other schools. Parents are viewed as partners and they are encouraged to actively engage in their child’s education.

In any school, relationships are central to establishing a positive learning climate. Emerald’s friendly, collaborative, and dynamic culture provide the foundation for students to take risks and to be themselves. Emerald Mountain students wake up every morning excited to go to school. They care about each other, their community, and their education.

Emerald faculty understand that the best learning happens through experience, discovery and reflection. Our teachers go beyond teaching students basic content-driven curriculum by fostering a culture of passionate learners who dream big, think critically, and push the boundaries of what is possible. At Emerald, we believe that students who are curious, confident, and imaginative will go on to change the world.

I invite you to visit our campus, observe our exceptional teachers in action, and see Emerald for yourself.



The evolution of the school began when Nancy Spillane and a small group of families established Lowell Whiteman Primary School, named in honor of a local pioneer of education. These founders created a school committed to educating the whole child. By nurturing the mind and spirit, they believed the environment created for the school would inspire a child to become a critical thinker, a problem solver, and a life-long learner while attaining a solid academic foundation. The school was renamed Emerald Mountain School in August of 2012.

The school opened in August 1993 in what formerly was the old city police station. After extensive research, fundraising, and the construction of a new facility, with the collaboration of the Steamboat Springs community, the school moved to its current location at 818 Oak Street in 2000.

Education at Emerald Mountain School follows a developmental approach that strives to educate the whole student in a positive and constructive environment. The academic program is designed to promote intellectual growth, creativity, confidence, and leadership through an understanding of cultural differences throughout the world and responsibility within the school community.

The philosophy of emphasizing learning as a lifetime skill and acquiring those tools to enable a student to continue self-education is a priority of the entire school community. The goal is that each student acquires an exceptional education, through the development of excellent academic skills, yet allowing the maturity of the individual student. By providing a challenging and nurturing environment, the school enables students to expand their natural curiosity and energy. Each child’s intrinsic and unique strengths – intellectual, personal, artistic, imaginative – are embraced and developed.

Our Mission

We inspire confidence and a passion for learning through a curriculum that stresses academics, personal accountability, experiential and outdoor education, and responsible local and global citizenship. We provide a creative environment that includes multi-age and socio-economically diverse classrooms, low student-teacher ratios, and active parent participation.

Our Vision

We believe the early years in a child’s education lay the groundwork for success in an ever-changing world.

Our vision is to be the school that best prepares students for future challenges and opportunities.

When we instill personal confidence, commitment to community, and the ability to think independently and creatively, we create passionate learners poised to achieve their dreams and positively impact the world around them.


  • Independence in the truest sense of the word. Independent school teachers have the freedom to create educational experiences that meet each child’s needs, without state mandates on curriculum, textbooks, and testing.
  • Mission-driven education. Each independent school is driven by its own unique philosophy, values, and approach to teaching.



Independent schools nurture intellectual curiosity, stimulate personal growth, encourage critical thinking, and promote a lifelong love of learning.

  • More students in independent schools enroll in advanced courses than in public, parochial, and other private schools.
Academic Excellence



Independent school instructors usually teach in their areas of expertise. They strive to develop a full understanding of each student’s learning style, interests, and motivation.

  • Small classes that allow for individual attention. Low student-teacher ratios encourage close connections between instructors and students.
  • Graduates of independent schools have a greater likelihood of completing a bachelor’s degree or graduate degree.
Dynamic Curriculum



Independent schools promote regular communication among students, parents, and teachers to ensure everyone is working toward the same goals. As a parent, you can actively engage in your student’s education, because the staff and teachers want and value your participation.

  • A community of parents who actively participate in their children’s education.
  • Independent schools foster vibrant student communities that welcome and respect every family.
Inclusive Community


In addition to academics, independent schools also nurture students’ personal and social growth and civic conscience.

  • invites and rewards curiosity concerning the richness and diversity of all human cultures and encourages respect for all people.
  • curriculum that helps students recognize how differing cultures, traditions, histories, and religions may underlie views and values that can sharply contrast with their own.
Global Awareness


We'll be happy to answer any questions



Samantha Coyne Donnel came to Steamboat after 16 years at The Archer School for Girls in Los Angeles, CA where she served as a science teacher, Department Chair, Dean of Students, Upper School Director, and the Assistant Head of School. Her passion for excellence in education and the outdoors led her to Steamboat and Emerald Mountain School. Samantha’s 19 years in education were preceded by her own education at Bowdoin College and Harvard University where she earned her Masters in Educational Leadership. Samantha, her husband and her eight-year old daughter are delighted to move to Steamboat where they can get outdoors more readily, ski and bike the vast mountain terrain, and become part of the tight-knit community that Steamboat offers.


Jed brings over 16 years of teaching experience in independent schools to EMS. He has taught a wide range of students across elementary, middle, and high school grade levels, and he is passionate about fostering a love of literature and writing in his students. Jed is an expert in curriculum design and pedagogy, and he appreciates collaboration with colleagues to design creative, engaging learning experiences across multiple disciplines. He states, “I want to ensure that my teaching is meaningful to how students understand themselves in the present and opens up doors for them to imagine themselves changing the world. I appreciate project-based, student-centric learning with real-life application. In essence, therefore, I enjoy seeing what my students will teach me.”

Jed earned his BA in English from Trinity College in 1999 and MA in literature from Middlebury College in 2007.

Mary Anne

As part of its mission, every student at EMS plays a strings instrument, an ambition only realized through the creative talents of our faculty. Mary Anne has been with Emerald since 2006, and she has a distinct knack for inspiring the passions and refining the abilities of her students, from beginners to budding virtuosos. She states, “The process of learning an instrument reaches in and touches the curious scientist in all of us, the rational mathematician finding simultaneous order and chaos, the mystery and puzzle lover, the artist. At EMS, every student chooses to play the violin, viola, cello, or bass when they enter the school. The process of their discovery — wherein they realize that they each have the capability to bring themselves and others joy through the music they create — is life-changing.” Mary Anne blends her curriculum to involve classical and contemporary works, and students share with her the ever-growing list of songs they want to play. She adds, “It’s wonderful hearing class pieces being sung and hummed in the halls, the spontaneous ‘I LOVE Telemann!,’ or having the same student who asked to play Call Me Maybe tell me that Bach’s Bist du bei mir is now her favorite song.” EMS students perform in a number of ensemble and orchestra arrangements throughout the year, both on campus and at venues across Steamboat. Likewise, they enjoy several opportunities to work with Ernest Richardson and the Steamboat Symphony Orchestra.

Mary Anne earned her Bachelor of Music Education from The State University of New York at Fredonia in 1982. Her education includes a strong emphasis in Suzuki pedagogy. She performs locally with the Steamboat Symphony Orchestra and the Steamboat String Quartet and has performed with the Erie Philharmonic, the Midland/Odessa Symphony and the Louisiana Philharmonic.


Since her arrival to Emerald in 2010, Jen has established herself as a driving force for the primary school, inspiring passion and responsibility in her students. She states, “Emerald is a place that stimulates creativity; a place superior in brilliance; a place that is filled with great emotion.” Always looking for ways to enhance her craft, she enjoys the freedom to create new and highly engaging curriculum that integrates language arts, math, visual art, and the sciences. She adds, “My goal is to foster a warm, positive, and safe learning environment with rich, hands-on lessons and activities.”

Jen earned her Bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Northern Illinois in 1998 and her Master’s in gifted and talented education from Northeastern in 2002.


Debbie has been with EMS since its founding in 1993, and she is the life-blood of the school with intimate knowledge of all of its workings. As Director of Admissions she introduces and welcomes new families, sharing information about our multifaceted program and the personalities that make our school special. She states, “I cherish the familiarity and comfort of spending time with family. From the warm greetings I receive each morning from parents and students, a child or faculty member coming to my desk asking for my help, or a parent eager to talk with me or share a laugh, each day at Emerald Mountain School adds to the sense of belonging and shared purpose we all experience. I know and believe in all aspects of this school. Our students thrive in the supportive and encouraging environment our teachers have created. I look forward to sharing with you just what it is that makes me so passionate. Give me a call; I’d love to show you our school!”

Debbie received her BA in Art History from St. Lawrence University in 1975.

Beth Herbert

Beth’s deep appreciation for biology and the beauty of the natural world began at a young age. Before she began her undergraduate program, she had already earned Fire Fighter II and EMT certificates, and gained considerable experience as a raft guide in the Blue Ridge Mountains and in Colorado. Her experiences included engaging conversations with fellow adventurers regarding the sciences involved in the wealth of surrounding scenery, and she realized the classroom as an ideal space in which to further her passions. After earning her degree, she moved to Steamboat for good, beginning her teaching career as a Middle School science teacher with Routt County before finding her way to EMS in 2014.  She states, “I believe that learning is about curiosity, discovery, and mental agility. The classroom extends far beyond the confinements of physical walls, and science teachers are guides meant to excite learners about the world and universe around them.” Beth loves the wealth of hands-on opportunities afforded by the Yampa Valley, and she exposes her students to the effects that their choices have on the environment and how they can impact meaningful change.

Beth earned her BS in Secondary Science Education from Ohio University in 2006.


Keri began her teaching career at Emerald over eighteen years ago. She proudly boasts that she taught in the original, tiny EMS art room on 8th street that was once the town morgue. Since then, she has transformed her art room in the current school building to an inviting space of creative dynamism and opportunity. She states, “All people are creative. Art is a way to solve problems, think critically and to express one’s self in ways that are otherwise impossible. People of all ages often claim, ‘I am not an artist,’ but I believe that all human beings have endless abilities to express themselves visually. I strive to make all students see the inspired visual gifts they possess.” Just as she enjoys continuously reinventing her own curriculum, Keri loves mixed-media, recycled and reused materials, sketchbooks, making messes, and working with her hands. She believes that no two art projects should ever look the same, that happy accidents are wonderful, and that art speaks to and about the other academic disciplines.

Keri earned her BFA in art history from the University of Colorado in 1993 and her Master’s in art and design from the University of Northern Colorado in 2015.

Merrick Tracy

Even a brief glimpse at Merrick’s background illustrates the array of his interests and talents. After finishing his undergraduate degree in 2001, be began his career in education with a Teach for America position in the Rio Grande Valley. During that stint, he taught high school math, coached wrestling and volleyball, and earned his teaching certificate. In 2003, he moved to Lewisburg, WV, where, over a 14-year span, he taught middle school (all subjects), worked for the Parks Commission, owned and operated a bike shop, built trails, opened and managed a wood-oven pizza restaurant, and taught kindergarten and first grade (all subjects). He and his family moved to Steamboat in 2017, and he feels fortunate to have landed at Emerald since he enjoys the freedom to develop his own curriculum with equally creative colleagues. He states, “My philosophy is clear: teach students to be good humans. Defined structure and consistency help foster a safe environment for kids to feel comfortable so that they can take risks, make mistakes and solve problems.”

Merrick earned his BA in Anthropology from the University of Nebraska in 2001 and his teaching certificate from the State of Texas in 2002.

Mary W

Mary has over eighteen years experience working as the administrative assistant at Emerald Mountain School. She wears many hats throughout the course of the school day, and states, “I love working in the front office. I get to see everybody: parents, teachers, and all of the students. It’s nice to have Bode (the dog) here, too, since he always lends a calming influence, no matter what is going on.”

Mary holds a Bachelor of Science degree in education from Eastern Illinois University and, prior to her arrival in Steamboat, she taught third grade for three years in the suburbs of Chicago.

Mary and her husband moved to Steamboat Springs in 1989. Their son, Drew, is a 2012 alumnus of Emerald Mountain School, and he attends Colby College. She enjoys spending her free time cycling, reading, skiing and making pizza on the grill with her family. 


Hayley is a Colorado native, born and raised in Longmont, and she has taught Spanish to students in kindergarten through college over the past eight years. She refined her Spanish living abroad in Argentina and Spain, then broke into teaching by overseeing semester courses for undergraduates as part of her Masters program. She states, “I’m passionate about getting to know students on a personal level, cultivating their appreciation and familiarity with Spanish, and incorporating music, creativity, and play into the classroom. I’ve always had a love for Spanish, I enjoy working with people, I like learning about and connecting with our students, and I like teaching a school subject that I find relevant and will continue to be applicable and beneficial to students’ lives as adults.” Since moving to Steamboat and settling at EMS, she has taught at CMC and Steamboat Mountain School.

Haley earned B.A.s in International Studies and in Spanish from Pepperdine University in 2009. She received an M.A. in Hispanic Linguistics from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 2012.

EMS_2018-9822, Doug

Doug began his education career in 2006 by administering a mentoring and volunteer tutoring program for at-risk youth in a front range drop-out prevention program. He then served in leadership roles at various Colorado nonprofits before returning to education in 2014 as a Teach for America Corps Member in the Las Vegas Valley. He states, “Every kid deserves a great education, and someone who cares about them and wants them to succeed, regardless of their background. As a teacher, I get to do that every day. Being in the classroom is far more fulfilling for me than working in an office ever was.”

Doug has taught advanced placement and honors courses at the secondary level in Arizona, Nevada and Utah. He earned his BA in Marketing from Michigan State University, as well as his MS in Environmental Studies from the University of Montana, and an M.Ed in Secondary Science Education from the University of Nevada.

SpillaneCreative_2017EMS-95, Dave

Dave ran a local restaurant during his first ten years in The Boat. Although he found the work intriguing and it helped him to refine the collaborative skills he now thinks of as essential for his current teaching, he wasn’t fulfilled by the endeavor. His parents and grandparents were all involved in education in some capacity; as happens with many educators, although he didn’t initially choose the profession as a calling, teaching eventually found him. He states, “I arrived to Steamboat eager to define my professional track, and Emerald believed in both my ambition and my potential. I became myself at this school.” Now, after ten years in the classroom, he has come to realize and appreciate what his forebears understood: that the day-to-day enjoyment of collegiality and effective collaboration are the best rewards for the hard work involved in good teaching. He adds, “What I appreciate most about Emerald Mountain School is the emphasis on educating the whole child. As I look back on these past ten years, I most often reflect on how our graduates have grown into adults who value the importance of work hard and respect.” 

Dave graduated from Colorado State University in 1996 with a BA in English and an emphasis in history. He received his Post-Bacc in Elementary Ed from Western Governors University in 2009.

Get news and updates from us