The governance structure is autonomous and is quite different from regular public schools. Pikes Peak School of Expeditionary Learning has its own governing school board and is chartered through School District 49.
PPSEL was granted a charter from School District 49 in 2004 and is governed by an independent Board of Directors. The school originally opened in 2000 with a charter from Academy District 20. The Board of Directors is a 5 person board with the principal as a 6th, non-voting board member.
Expeditionary Learning (EL Education) is a standards-driven approach to education developed at Harvard University. Expeditionary Learning emphasizes engaged teaching and learning, project-based curriculum, and a demanding and supportive school culture. Literacy is central and reading and writing are integrated throughout the curriculum. Character development and teamwork are not just emphasized, but embedded in school structures, practices and rituals and integrated into the academic program. In Expeditionary Learning schools, much of the academic work is done in learning expeditions — long-term investigations of important questions and subjects that include individual and group projects, field studies, and performances and presentations of student work. Active pedagogy, (instruction strategies, techniques, and approaches), the type of instruction in an EL classroom, is meant to be the norm whether or not there is a learning expedition underway.
We believe expeditionary learning harnesses the natural passion to learn and is a powerful method for developing the curiosity, skills, knowledge, and courage needed to imagine a better world and work toward realizing it.
Pikes Peak School of Expeditionary Learning uses multiple forms of assessment to track progress of student learning. In addition to required, standardized state testing, the school uses other forms of assessments such as Star 360 and DIBELS to measure the success of students and to plan next steps in learning. Students also receive feedback from things like Final Products and Projects.
Traditionally, PPSEL students find much success academically, both in standardized testing and in other forms of assessment. PPSEL typically performs above the state average and at the top of the school district. The school does not believe, though, that a once a year assessment tells the whole story. This is the reason the school takes a wider view of data and looks closely at many different types of assessments. We also look at student work to measure growth and achievement. We believe that teaching students how to do high quality work is an important aspect of school that has nothing to do with test scores. Parents can expect to know multiple data points about their child throughout the year, including a Student Led Conference, which involves the child understanding their own growth.
A great deal of thought, research and practice has gone into designing our schools structure. We haven’t always made the same decisions that were made by the schools of our childhood. Some of what you see may look unfamiliar. You may be surprised that certain school pieces are missing. You may notice some unexpected new things.
Our Classroom space is used flexibly In a PPSEL classroom, work areas are arranged to help students collaborate in small groups. Each classroom has a large space set aside for whole group meetings, which are essential to building a supportive community of learners.
Our classrooms have ongoing conversations and are full of flexibility . Student conversation is the center of much of our learning here. We believe that deep learning takes place when children challenge one another, ask questions, share ideas, and build on one another’s knowledge verbally. At certain times during the day, children will be getting out of their seats to gather material, consult with one another, and look at information on the walls. In these situations, the child who is sitting still and not making a peep may be the one off task and not the other way around.
Fieldwork is central to our curriculum. Learning extends beyond PPSEL’s wall; it connects to the world. Students frequently work in the field, sometimes once or twice a week. Fieldwork is deeply woven into each teacher’s curriculum. Attendance is required on fieldwork as much as it is in the classroom. The field may be a forest, a theatre, a ghost town, a hospital lab, a courtroom, a museum, etc..
We use primary sources as much as possible. We believe children can learn authentically by using authentic resources. Although they have access to some textbooks, students more often gather information from non-fiction and fiction trade books, publications, and the Internet. By reading literature and exploring primary sources, children gain information-gathering skills that they use to independently problem-solve and conduct research in the real world.
Revising work is habit here. Students at PPSEL normally aren’t finished with a piece of work until they complete multiple drafts of it. This expectation reaches across grades and disciplines. Improving on work again and again is common practice here. Teachers guide students from draft to draft. They sometimes collaborate to assess the work of their peers. Rubrics set high standards for finished pieces and guide students as they strive to get their work to meet these high standards.
Students lead some of their own conferences. Conferences not only tell you how your child is doing in school, but they help your child take responsibility for her/his own learning. Conferences provide an occasion for students to reflect on their progress, set goals for future work, and make a public presentation to the most important people in their lives. Your child will lead her/his own conference and present his/her own learning to you. Students prepare for these conferences by choosing best work, revising work, writing reflections on their learning, and practicing presentation skills. We expect parents to come with their children for every parent/teacher/student conference in the school year. Because these conferences are such a part of your child’s learning at PPSEL, student and parent attendance is required.
We assess student performance with portfolios. Every student builds a portfolio to showcase some of their work. The portfolio includes academic work from each expedition along with literacy, math, service and reflections on student work. Portfolio requirements are based on state standards. Portfolios are a crucial tool for revealing what your child has learned. They help teachers and students notice missing links in a child’s learning and also acknowledge and celebrate a child’s accomplishments.
We encourage internal rather than external rewards. We rarely reward our students with prizes when they succeed. We offer specific praise, encouragement, and a culture that fosters and celebrates student achievement. We believe that if children only experience extrinsic rewards, they learn to only work for those rewards, and do not connect their learning to the outside world. We strive to help children make those connections, believing that the purpose of learning is to interact thoughtfully and powerfully with the world.
Learning is public and collaborative. Our students’ work is often assessed by their peers. Students read their writing aloud, solicit comments and present project drafts for formal peer critiques. We do public work just like in the real world. Having an authentic audience keeps us on our toes, supporting quality work with high standards.
Adventure deepens our learning. Although our students camp, hike, ski and climb, we are not solely a school of wilderness adventure. We use adventure experiences to promote growth in intellect and character using the principles of Expeditionary Learning Outward Bound. Students who are comfortable taking risks out-of-doors often gain confidence to take bigger risks in the classroom.
Service and Character Development are part of our curriculum . Our focus on character and service, as well as academic work, is mirrored by the quality of the ways in which we treat one another, our community, and our environment. Students are encouraged to be compassionate, disciplined, courageous and responsible. For example, your child’s crew may take time during the day to discuss why a crew member was mistreated. They may take twenty minutes to pick up litter at a neighborhood park. They may spend one morning a month visiting an aging community member.
No. PPSEL is publicly funded as any public school is. Parents are asked to participate in a $60 a semester field fee that pays for field trips, events, and supplies that relate to the expeditions.
Extra programs like preschool or before/after school care may be tuition based.
To submit an enrollment inquiry or to receive more information about enrolling or the school, go to this link.
With project-based learning expeditions as the core element PPSEL’s curriculum includes:
- A focus on developing reading and writing skills in alignment with state standards.
- A rigorous math program using standards-based curriculum.
- The use of computers to develop research and critical thinking skills.
- Fieldwork allowing students to learn about and provide service to the community.
- Adventure and environmental education to challenge students, foster teamwork, and nurture students’ understanding of nature.
- Fine arts to develop critical thinking and creativity in every learning expedition.