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November 9, 2012
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EL schools director shares insight locally

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado - About one-third of Expeditionary Learning (EL) schools nationwide are charter schools, while most are existing district schools that have been converted to EL schools, according to Jon Mann, regional director for EL schools in Colorado and Texas.

And, while some EL schools in rural areas have fewer than 100 students, the ideal size for a K-8 (kindergarten-eighth grade) EL school, such as the one being proposed in Glenwood Springs, is between 300 and 400 students, Mann said.

Those were some of the statistics shared by Mann during a visit to Glenwood Springs this week.

The Roaring Fork District Re-1 school board is trying to learn as much about the EL approach as possible as it considers a charter school application for the proposed Two Rivers Expeditionary School (TRES).

A series of community input meetings took place in late October. Members of the TRES group will also host a meeting at 3 p.m. Sunday at the Glenwood Springs Branch Library specifically for Latino families to learn about the proposed charter school and the EL approach.

The Re-1 school board will discuss the charter application and gather additional input during its regular Nov. 14 meeting in Glenwood Springs. The board is scheduled to make a decision on the application at its Nov. 28 meeting.

TRES has jointly applied to become a charter school either under Re-1 or the Colorado Charter School Institute.

State charter officials are also in the process of evaluating the proposal. The state charter board is expected to make its decision on Nov. 27.

TRES is being proposed by a group of parents, teachers and community members from both the Re-1 and Garfield Re-2 school districts.

It is proposed to begin as a K-6 school with 146 students coming from the Glenwood Springs-to-Rifle area. It would expand after two years to 190 students in grades K-8.

Charter proponents are currently looking for a school location somewhere in Glenwood Springs, with an eye toward the West Glenwood area.

The Re-1 board could also entertain the idea of converting an existing school in Glenwood Springs or elsewhere into an EL school.

Mann was invited to share his insight about the EL model, including a presentation to about 20 interested parents and community members at Glenwood Springs Middle School on Tuesday.

He also met with Re-1 administrators on Wednesday. District officials and school board members then paid a visit to the K-8 Homestake Peak School, a recently converted EL school in Eagle-Vail.

'Kids are the center of the culture'

Expeditionary learning "is not different learning," Mann explained. "It's just asking kids to be more involved, and to take what they're learning to another level."

EL schools have a typical classroom setting, but the "expedition" part of it comes through a deeper study of a topic or a given subject.

"When you go into an expeditionary learning classroom, you hear the kids' voices over the teacher, talking with each other about what they're learning," he said. "The kids are the center of the culture."

It also involves learning expeditions and projects outside the classroom, such as regular science outings - learning about river health on a local waterway is one example - or engaging in a community or civic project.

"It's about challenging the students to ask, 'OK, where are we going with this, what's the purpose ... what's the real-world example,'" Mann said.

Mann offered as one example that, instead of just learning about the Civil War, the expeditionary approach would ask students to look at the role of women during the war or how medical advances grew out of the war experience.

It takes about three years for a new school, whether it's a conversion school or a new charter school, to fully implement the EL model, Mann said, while students and teachers adjust.

Once established, though, student performance in EL schools typically exceeds that of overall district and state testing scores, he said.

To become an official EL school, a district or charter school is asked to contract with the EL Schools organization. That can cost between $40,000 and $100,000 per year for the first three years, depending on the size and specific needs and goals of a particular school, he said.

With that comes a "school designer," who essentially becomes part of the school staff and works to develop the EL curriculum and coordinate training for teachers and administrators.

Mann noted that there are a growing number of EL schools in the area, including the Homestake School and schools in Garfield District 16 that are in the process of converting. That presents an opportunity to do teacher development training on a regional basis, he said.

jstroud@postindependent.com


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The Post Independent Updated Nov 9, 2012 01:06AM Published Nov 9, 2012 01:05AM Copyright 2012 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.