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Educators visit Grass Valley Charter School to see expeditionary learning in action

Approximately 35 representatives from Expeditionary Learning schools across the country had the chance to get an up-close look at the way Grass Valley Charter School implements its adventure and service learning programs when the school hosted a site seminar Oct. 22-23.

On Thursday, participants rafted the Yuba River with the school’s fourth-graders, who were exploring the salmon run.

On Friday, the visitors were able to get a better idea of how the school incorporates concepts from field work into classroom lessons and character development goals by taking part in student-led tours of the school and workshops on facilitating adventure and service learning projects.



The goal of the seminar was to give other educators the tools to implement or improve those types of programs at their own schools, said Grass Valley Charter School Assistant Principal Scott Maddock.

“We are known in the network for our fieldwork, adventure and service learning,” Maddock said. Many other schools in the network, he added, have pieces of those programs in place, “but they’re not hitting it out of the park.”




The success Grass Valley Charter School has seen with those programs since it opened in 1993 has made it one of about a dozen “mentor schools” within the Expeditionary Learning network, a group of about 160 schools nationwide where academic standards are achieved through a focus on project-based, interdisciplinary learning.

The network’s designated “mentor schools” are tasked with hosting professional residencies, showcasing best practices and helping other schools within the network achieve success.

Grass Valley Charter School has sent its own teachers to site seminars at other Expeditionary Learning schools in the past; this year, this school decided it wanted to open its doors to other educators.

The thinking, Maddock said, was “maybe now it’s time for us to give back.”

The school applied to host the seminar about a year and a half ago, and is one of eight schools around the country to host a site seminar during the 2015-2016 school year.

On Friday, sixth-grader Rowan Muir and seventh-grader Douglas Briney stood in the school’s entryway, preparing to lead a tour of seminar participants through the school.

Muir said she was “excited” to be a tour guide and share aspects of the school with visitors.

“Then they can know about what we get to do,” she said.

Over the next 45 minutes or so, the group would wind its way through the school’s halls, led by Muir and Briney, stopping periodically to hear students from different grade levels explain the fieldwork their class is undertaking this year; many of the educators on the tour snapped pictures of some of the projects displayed on the wall’s bulletin boards.

“It’s very inspiring and just very thought-provoking,” said Melinda Dardenne-Ankringa, an intervention teacher at Big Pine Elementary School in Inyo County, as she explored the school’s outdoor science center during a stop on the tour.

She said she had come to the seminar to better understand how the school uses its fieldwork to reinforce character development.

“There are just so many different ideas about how to bring expeditions and adventure and infuse them in the learning experience,” she said.

Dinah Consuegra, a school designer for Expeditionary Learning based out of Oakland, agreed, noting that the learning value of those experiences is significant.

“There’s just a lot of real-world application” to what students learn under the Expeditionary Learning model, she said, adding, “They’re not just developing skills that are practical, but they’re understanding their place in the world.”

Consuegra works closely with Lighthouse Community Charter School in Oakland, and said her experiences at the seminar will enable her to better coach educators at the school.

She said a couple of teachers from Lighthouse Charter attended the seminar with her, and had already mentioned how their school used to implement particular adventure and service programs that aren’t in place anymore — and they were inspired to help restart them.

“Seeing this is really sparking that drive to want to build this back in schools and push that forward,” Consuegra said.

Maddock said the opportunity for educators to see how other programs operate helps strengthen the entire network of Expeditionary Learning schools. But hosting the site seminar also enables Grass Valley Charter School teachers and students — including Muir — to reflect on the programs that make the school stand out.

“Now that I realize people are actually coming to see (the school), it’s like, whoa, we do get to do really awesome things,” Muir said.

To contact Staff Writer Emily Lavin, email elavin@theunion.com or call 530-477-4230.


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