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Matt Hamilton: Guest opinion

The Aspen TImes
Aspen, CO, Colorado

After attending the National Expeditionary Learning conference in Baltimore with six teachers, a principal and our superintendent, I am deeply inspired by the possibilities on the horizon for the Roaring Fork School District.

Expeditionary Learning is not about taking students on more field trips to the mountains and trails that surround us. Expeditionary Learning schools inspire students, engage teachers and transform schools into places of student-centered, teacher-led learning. Expeditionary Learning students take responsibility for their own learning and become student leaders within their community. Expeditionary Learning develops habits of scholarship that push students to achieve beyond what they thought possible. It recognizes that school can be fun and still prepare our children for success in their careers. It brings a context to education that connects what is learned in the classroom to the outside world through expeditions and service learning community projects.

Expeditionary Learning is an educational model that was developed 20 years ago and exists in 160 schools across 29 states serving 46,000 students. It is a proven model that develops a student’s character and captures imagination so that even those who enter school below grade level are able to make up for lost ground.

Julie Allen, a teacher at Glenwood Springs Elementary School, left the conference motivated, rejuvenated and inspired listening to the students and seeing their leadership in action. In one of the master classes taught by Expeditionary Learning teachers from Rochester, N.Y., Julie heard the story of Emma, a sixth-grade student. Emma discovered a need to stand up to bullying at her school and suggested an anti-bullying campaign as a service-learning project. She led not only her class but motivated other students across grade levels to get involved.

Her campaign made a real difference in her school’s culture, developing a deeper atmosphere of trust. When asked why leaders are important, Emma’s response was, “A leader is someone that thinks of others before themselves. A true leader sees the needs of the community before thinking of themselves and their own needs.”

At Glenwood Springs Elementary School, the staff and school board are exploring a conversion of the existing school to the Expeditionary Learning model for the 2013-14 school year. The decision to engage in this exploratory process was driven by a community desire to look at new educational models in Glenwood Springs. Ultimately, we are exploring conversion because we believe that our students and community deserve the best education available. We know that our teachers can inspire your children to achieve great things while being inspired themselves.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, Jon Mann, Mountain Region director from Expeditionary Learning, will be at Glenwood Springs Elementary School to answer questions and describe the next steps in this exploratory process. Please attend the community meeting scheduled at the school’s cafeteria at 6 p.m. Tuesday or 8:30 a.m. Wednesday. Child care and translators are available.

While our work to date has been focused on implementing Expeditionary Learning at Glenwood Springs Elementary School, know that this work is the first step in a larger process. In short order, the Roaring Fork School District will begin a visioning process to develop a strategic plan for our schools over the next 10 years throughout all of our communities.

During this process, we will engage in a process of deep reflection and investigation asking the community, our teachers and staff what they think is best for all children. From this process we then will implement strategies that might include options like converting other schools to the Expeditionary Learning model.

I invite all community members to take part in this process of building the best schools possible for all children. More information about this process will be distributed very soon, but it is our district’s goal to see strategies that are developed implemented in the 2014-15 school year.

In the meantime, the lines of communication will remain open. Think about what you would like for your child’s education. Can our district innovate to better meet the needs

of all children? Learn more about Expeditionary Learning (www.elschools.org) and the opportunity to supercharge the Glenwood Springs Elementary School teaching environment and capitalize on our district’s strengths.


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