Rocklin man scales Whitney for Sunset Ranch Elementary lab

Ciesco takes science to new heights
By: Krissi Khokhobashvili, Placer Herald editor
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Rocco Ciesco is once again climbing Mt. Whitney to raise money for a good cause – this time those who sponsor his climb will be helping raise money for the state-of-the-art science lab at Sunset Ranch Elementary School.

Ciesco has done this before; last year he scaled Whitney to raise money for the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s disease research. This time he was inspired by his wife, Jody, who’s a kindergarten teacher at Sunset Ranch. When she told her husband about the need for additional equipment, he knew it was time to strap on his hiking boot.

Ciesco is the founder of Vista Adventures, which organizes an annual fundraising effort that combines nature adventures with philanthropy. The Sunset lab, he said, is a perfect fit.

“I don’t normally interface with the school other than my wife, but I firmly believe in the STEAM program and the need for this.”

STEAM stands for Science Technology Engineering Art Math Service Learning, a program that blends technology with hands-on learning. Sunset’s lab is one of three of its kind in the state, where second- through sixth-graders fill the lab each day to follow interactive computer programs that lead them through science experiments, all over seen by teacher Lia Hoover.

“They’re natural scientists when they’re young,” Hoover said. “They’re curious.”

Those hands-on activities include a rotating solar system, building roller coasters, building solar ovens to cook s’mores, building volcanoes and learning about watersheds. There are also several afterschool science clubs, including robotics, and plans are in the works to build an outdoor learning center.

All that takes money, explained Principal Jim Trimble. The outdoor center will cost at least $15,000, and the school has to raise thousands of dollars each year to keep the lab – and Hoover’s salary – going. Needs include expanding the science library, purchasing microscopes for children and possibly having iPads available for each student.

“Science is always changing,” said Ciesco, who also works with the committee developing the Sacramento Powerhouse Science Center, a $40 million center being constructed on the banks of the Sacramento River. “There’s always something new to be discovered and played with.”

In June 2011, Ciesco and a team hiked for 13 hours along the 11-mile Whitney Trail. This year he and hiking buddy Phil Balmenti, of San Diego, have chosen a much more difficult climb. The Mountaineer Route is an eastern-facing slope that stresses the arms and shoulders for a Class III vertical hike. Ciesco said he’ll be use the services of a guide this year, as the route is more dangerous and will take two days.

“They already have ice and snow,” Ciesco said. “The temperature will be in the 20s, but cold doesn’t bother me. I was born in mid-January in New England. Cold is part of my DNA.”

Ciesco is ready to face the challenges of the climb, knowing that he is helping out the kids. He said next year his adventures – which he said will involve water – will go toward autism research.

“When you’re sitting there and you’re going that last 1,000 feet and you’re just exhausted,” he said, “knowing that you’re doing it for a good cause makes a big difference.”



To donate to the Sunset Ranch Elementary School science lab, call the school at 624-2048 or visit To learn more about Rocco Ciesco and his Oct. 27 and 28 Mt. Whitney hike, visit