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.




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. 



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.



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.


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.


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.


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.



Samantha Coyne Donnel


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 led her to Emerald Mountain School. Samantha’s 21 years in education were preceded by her own education at Bowdoin College and Harvard University, where she earned her Masters in Educational Leadership. Samatha likewise loves the tight-knit community of Steamboat, and its wonderful outdoor offerings, including skiing and biking.


Jed Donnel


Jed has taught a wide range of students across elementary, middle, and high school grade levels over 18 years in the classroom, 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.

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.


Jen Freund

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.


Kristen Heard

Kristen joined the EMS staff as Director of Admissions and Development in July of 2019 following over thirty years of service in independent schools on the East Coast. She began her teaching career as a science and outdoor ed faculty member at Chewonki Foundation in Maine, then made her way to Connecticut where she taught science courses at Fairfield Country Day and Greenwich Country Day. Her transition to administration occurred at Tuxedo Park School, where she became Director of Admissions and Secondary School Placement. She states, “I love helping kids find the right school. I believe that fit is critical to the happiness of the students and the health of the larger school community. I’ve also enjoyed seeing students’ transformation throughout the whole process of their education, from application through graduation.”
Kristen brings a wealth of knowledge and perspective to EMS. She states, “This place is a gem. I was drawn to EMS because of the strength of the community; the bond between teachers and students, and the wonderful parent involvement.” Outside of school, Kristen enjoys a variety of Steamboat’s scenic offerings, including skiing, biking, fishing, and hiking.
Kristen earned her B.S. in Biology from the University of Maine.



Gabriela Rodriguez


Gabriela Rodriguez joined the Emerald Mountain School community in 2020 as an Associate Science Teacher. She leads our primary students in their scientific pursuits, supports middle school science and 3/4 Math, and co-leads Fridays in the Field curriculum and implementation. She is originally from Bogota, Colombia, but has lived in North Routt at the base of Hahn’s Peak since 2015. She adds, “even though I am Colombian and my native tongue is Spanish, I now think, dream, and prefer communicating in English.”

Gaby graduated from Colorado College with an Environmental Science Major in 2015. Her passions combine environmental science and education, which led her to become a Certified Environmental Educator by the Colorado Alliance of Environmental Education in 2018. Gaby is also a certified Early Childhood Professional Level III with PDIS in the state of Colorado and has several years of experience leading preschool through college-aged students in nature-based learning pursuits. Most recently she designed a K-12 Water Education Program with Yampatika and is excited to implement parts of this hands-on, experiential, outdoor education program within the EMS community. Gaby is certified by the Colorado Department of Education as an Alternative Licensed Teacher and is currently enrolled in an Alternative Licensure Program through Northwest BOCES. Outside of the classroom, she loves trail running, backpacking, salsa dancing, country swing, and reggaeton.


Keri Searls

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 Williamson

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.


Josh Walters


Josh joined the EMS community over the summer of 2019. Before making his way to Steamboat, he worked as a Spanish teacher within Denver Public Schools for nine years, and as a primary school teacher at the BLIS Dual-Language School in Ankara, Turkey. He had made several trips up to Steamboat when he lived in Denver, and he jumped at the chance to move here when a position at Mountain Village Montessori opened a couple of years ago. Now, we’re lucky to have him at Emerald Mountain, since his range of experience and remarkable creativity in the classroom make him an ideal fit. As he states, “I appreciate the small, individualized approach to education, and being part of a dedicated staff willing to collaborate for the best student outcomes. I was drawn to teaching because I love creating positive and long-lasting impacts on my students, watching and supporting their growth toward their potential.” Outside of school, he enjoys the vibe of the local community and the various outdoor experiences that Steamboat offers.

Josh received his MA in Spanish and Studio Art from Nebraska Wesleyan University.


Doug Davis

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.


Dave Marrs

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.


Patty Oakland, RN

Director of Health and Wellness, School Nurse

Coming Soon