Art Abelmann: Hands-on credit at Aspen High |

Art Abelmann: Hands-on credit at Aspen High

Art Abelmann
Special to The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Is it true that the only way to earn high school credits is by attending high school classes? During the 180 days of the school year, students earn academic credits by attending classes between the hours of 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. This is how credits have been earned for more than 100 years of public education.

But are there not other options? Yes, students can now earn credits through approved online programs and may also take classes at the local community college, but is that enough?

Aspen High School is known for its Experiential Education Program. The Faculty works diligently to offer unique and exciting learning opportunities that take students out of the traditional classroom setting. Through varied offerings – such as manufacturing one’s own skis for use on a hut trip, rafting and canoeing down some of Utah’s uniquely-formed river basins, exploring Raku pottery firing, storytelling in New Orleans and mastering digital photography in Sante Fe – Aspen High School students are exposed to various teaching and learning opportunities.

Even with such offerings that bring students and teachers together in non-classroom learning environments, can we ask: Are there not still other ways for students to learn and earn high school credits?

A quick review of several recent student accomplishments point out that our students can learn from many of the out-of-school experiences they participate in. At Aspen High School, elective credit will be available to these students through what will be known as an Extended Learning Opportunity, or ELO.

ELOs are defined by a level of student involvement that warrants consideration for elective credit. Such involvement is exemplified by a student participating in a personal interest that is not available at the high school. Recent student accomplishments point to examples of ELOs.

A freshman participates in competition for the passion he has in half-pipe skiing. He works with his AVSC coaches and reaches a level of competition few will ever know. The next thing he knows is that all of his practices have catapulted him to compete as a finalist in the most prestigious event his sport has to offer. Suddenly, he finds himself on the podium as a medalist and is thrust into a new world of competition and opportunity. Has he not learned something during this experience? Of course he has … welcome to an Extended Learning Opportunity elective credit.

Having practiced ballet for all of her elementary and middle school years, a high school student finds herself practicing and performing with a world-class ballet company. The hours of commitment, training and performing warrant credit options through the Extended Learning Opportunity.

Leaving school for three weeks in order to attend training with a service dog, a student overcomes personal health issues and learns about the canine world as well as her own challenges to overcome. She is launched into the world of public speaking as well as offers of magazine interviews. The hard work, not only during the training program but each and every day, cements a relationship with her service dog that few dog or pet owners will ever know, and warrants credit under an ELO.

An avid skier interns with a local ski shop to learn the skills needed to become a certified ski technician, spending afternoons under the mentorship as a mechanic at a local garage, or even undergoing a surgery that lends to mastery of knowledge about the mechanics of one’s knee. The biological, anatomical and physical therapy required to become stronger leads to a knowledge base worthy of consideration for an ELO credit.

As our students continue to explore their areas of personal passion, shouldn’t we take the time to recognize these accomplishments and offer school credits when the work warrants such? It is exciting to be at a school where experiential education is a vital part of what we do and will now be recognized throughout the year.

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