Local teachers jazzed about EL approach
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – There seems to be little convincing involved for teachers as they delve into the Expeditionary Learning model that is being considered for adoption at Glenwood Springs Elementary School.
“In a lot of ways, this is where we always wanted to be as teachers,” GSES third-grade teacher Stephanie Pollender said during a recent report to the Roaring Fork School District Re-1 school board. “This is the type of education we have been wanting for our students.”
In fact, she said she believes the in-depth, project-based style of learning embraced by EL Schools is very likely “where we’re headed in education.”
Pollender was part of a team of six GSES teachers who attended the recent EL Schools National Conference in Baltimore, along with school principal Penny McDill, Re-1 Superintendent Diana Sirko and school board president Matt Hamilton.
Re-1 officials are in the process of working with the EL Schools organization, which will soon decide whether to extend a contract for GSES to become an official EL-based school. That conversion could begin as soon as next school year.
One of the steps in determining whether an existing school is a good fit to employ the model is to achieve “buy-in” from 80 percent of the school’s teaching staff, according to Jonathan Mann, the Mountain Regional director for EL Schools who was in Glenwood Springs last week.
EL officials will conduct an electronic survey of teachers, McDill said at the March 11 school board meeting, and will also meet with small groups of teachers in an effort to make that determination.
So far, though, teachers who spoke at a pair of parent information meetings and before the school board last week, are supportive of a school conversion.
Jamie Olson, a Title 1 teacher at GSES, said she nearly left teaching a few years ago.
“This has really re-energized me,” Olson told the school board, adding she has already begun to incorporate some EL concepts in her classroom.
“The kids are excited,” she said. “With EL, I just think students will be ready to explode.”
Crystal Garrison said her approach to physical education at the school is already right in line with EL.
“It’s an approach that sparks a lot of passion, and it reaches every learning type,” she said. “I’m 100 percent on board with this, and it would be great to see this model go schoolwide.”
That’s not to say there won’t be some challenges in implementing the model. The thing to remember, said GSES Assistant Principal Dave Anson, is that the implementation of EL would be a step-by-step process.
“You won’t see full implementation next year,” he said.
In fact, Mann said it usually takes three to five years to fully implement the EL model and begin to see results, whether it’s a conversion school or a new EL school starting from scratch.
Teachers did acknowledge that the workload will be greater, as they identify specific projects and field study opportunities to use in the different subject areas. EL schools also use a “crew” approach to classes, where teachers typically stay with the same class of students through multiple grade levels.
On the expense side, Sirko said the conversion would cost between $60,000 and $65,000 per year for the first three years. That cost includes hiring an EL school designer, which is required as part of the contract, plus teacher training.
The annual cost would drop to about $20,000 after three years, Sirko said.
The next step in the district’s EL exploration will be a group visit to the Odyssey School, and EL-based school in Denver, on April 11.
If the EL organization decides to partner with GSES and Re-1, a draft contract could be before the school board by its April 24 meeting, followed by a final decision in May.
“We don’t want to go into this lightly,” said school board member Daniel Biggs. When the board makes its decision, “we need to be all in,” he said.
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