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EL conversion at GSES could come in fall

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – The more Glenwood Springs Elementary and Roaring Fork School District educators learn, the more they like about the prospect of adopting an expeditionary learning model at GSES.

And that transition could begin as soon as this fall.

“It’s certainly a possibility, but we definitely want to hear from our parent community first,” said Roaring Fork School District Re-1 Superintendent Diana Sirko.



Parents and the broader community will have an opportunity to learn more about expeditionary learning (EL), and how it affects school structure at two public meetings this week.

Those meetings will take place from 6-7:30 p.m. Tuesday, and again from 8:30-10 a.m. Wednesday in the GSES cafeteria.



“We are still in an exploration phase,” Sirko said. “So far, we believe this would be a great strategy for us, and I think parents will be as excited as we are.”

The Re-1 school board in December decided to explore a possible conversion of GSES to an official EL school, after rejecting the proposed K-8 charter Two Rivers Expeditionary School.

A conversion would involve formally working with the national EL organization to adopt the model at the existing K-5 GSES, which is one of two public elementary schools in Glenwood Springs.

GSES Principal Penny McDill recently returned from the National EL Conference in Baltimore, along with a contingent of six GSES teachers, Sirko and Re-1 school board president Matt Hamilton.

“We learned a lot about the role of leadership in an EL school,” McDill said. “It’s as much about building a strong staff as it is about using a model that works for the kids.”

As teachers become exposed to the concepts of EL, they’re amped up as well, she said.

“It’s not like it’s a complete shift in what we do,” McDill said. “A lot of it is what’s already out there in our district.”

EL involves teaching students around the same academic standards that already exist, but with a more in-depth, project-based approach.

“Expeditions” can be in the school, or out in the community involving a service project of some sort, or through a hands-on field learning trip.

EL doesn’t mean students are always going on field trips, McDill said.

And when they do, they’re not just there to observe, but to “participate, discover and learn,” she said.

McDill said a visit in December to the Homestake Peak EL School in Eagle-Vail was an eye-opener as well.

“In talking to the students, they knew what they were learning and why they were learning it,” McDill said. “It really gets to the social-emotional side for students, and teaching them how to become a good learner, and a good citizen.”

Another contingent of GSES teachers attended an EL training at Grand Valley Middle School in Battlement Mesa last week. Garfield District 16 is also in the process of adopting the EL model in its schools.

Another group of teachers and Re-1 district leaders will also visit the Odyssey School in Denver next month. Odyssey is an EL school based on the Outward Bound outdoor-learning program.

Even though GSES is the only school in Re-1 that is being considered for an official EL conversion, it’s a model that can be used in other district schools, Sirko said.

“There’s nothing that would prevent another school from using this approach as well,” she said. “So much is already happening in our system that involves project-based learning.

“It’s still about learning the standards and the skills necessary for students to be a success,” Sirko said. “EL is very complementary to much of what we already do.”

The EL study may also serve as a launching-off point for an upcoming districtwide “visioning” process, she said.

“This will involve talking to the community about their vision for our school district,” Sirko said.

jstroud@postindependent.com


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