Aspen High’s Experiential-Education program will expand next year |

Aspen High’s Experiential-Education program will expand next year

An eighth-grader in last year's Outdoor Education program completes the high repel at Marble base camp.
Courtesy photo |

As high-schoolers gear up for their Experiential Education lottery starting today, they will have a little more on their plate next year when they get back from their adventures.

The popular weeklong program at Aspen High School will be expanded into a year-round lesson plan, not just a week in the fall, principal Tharyn Mulberry said earlier this month at a community presentation.

During a meeting to introduce the “School on the Mountain” initiative that educators hope will help guide the high school’s vision for the future, Mulberry said one of the changes is having the ExEd teams meet every other week after they get back. They will work with a new curriculum that is rolling out in the initiative.

“The plan is to have the students do work from the SEE (Social, Emotional and Ethical learning curriculum from Emory University),” Mulberry said after the presentation. “We also would like to have the team meetings on Thursdays so teachers could use the professional development time on Wednesday to prepare and develop the lessons for the next day.”

According to the university, SEE learning is “most fundamentally based around three dimensions, which broadly encompass the types of knowledge and competencies it seeks to foster in students: awareness, compassion and engagement. Furthermore, these three dimensions can be approached in three domains: that of the personal, the social and systems.”

Aspen High’s ExEd gives students the options of adventure/educational trips around the country to courses and trips in the Roaring Fork Valley. ExEd is the week of Aug. 26, which is after the first week of classes.

High-schoolers filled out their top-six picks last week, and the lottery drawings for ExEd spots starts today and continues until Friday.

The expansion of ExEd is part of the “School on the Mountain” initiative that has been in the works since Mulberry received a late-night email from a frustrated teacher in October 2016.

It read, in part: “Let’s change the conversation. Let’s start by thinking and talking about our vision for our schools. If you could create a utopian school system, what would it look like? What is the best learning/working environment we can create? What would a school look like that values: the present moment, the passions of teachers and students, the wants and needs of individual human beings? I’d like to participate in that type of conversation.”

Mulberry and assistant principal Sarah Strassburger took that email and put together a group of students, teachers, educators and administrators. The group of more than 20 people went on visits to other successful schools and put together the “School on the Mountain.”

“That disgruntled teacher is no longer disgruntled,” English teacher Cerena Thomsen said of her late-night email to her boss.

Thomsen is the head of the English department and is part of the group looking at the high school’s grading policies.

The teacher leadership groups also are looking at the International Baccalaureate program to bring in more kids and train all the staff in IB, a no-grades policy and perhaps a different way to assess students in a more meaningful way, an internship program with the goal to expand with more community involvement and the social-emotional learning involved with the ExEd changes.

“We are looking at getting in touch with our tradition of innovation and really becoming that school that is that beacon, that example that other schools want to come and visit,” Mulberry said. “The faculty is committed to that.”

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