In both Lake Bluff and Atwater, a new curriculum was brought into the 2014-15 school year: Expeditionary Learning, or EL. The curriculum is already in place in over 160 schools across the United States.
“It’s a philosophy that’s built around 10 design principles. They focus on self discovery, the having of wonderful ideas, responsibility for learning, empathy and caring, success and failure, collaboration and competition, diversity and inclusion, nature, solitude and reflection, and a service component,” said Joleen Barry, a kindergarten teacher at Atwater, an active member of EL.
Atwater has begun to use and add the concepts of Expeditionary Learning to the daily school lives of students. The new curriculum was proposed at the end of last school year, and the school decided to implement it. Some staff members attended Expeditionary Learning sites and schools to learn and observe how other schools have implemented EL.
“We visited schools who are implementing EL in Kenosha [and one other site in Wisconsin],” said Anthony Schiro, a sixth grade teacher at Atwater.
So far, members of Atwater staff said they think EL has had a positive impact on the school.
Meg Malloy, a multi age teacher for third and fourth grade at Atwater, said that Atwater will take this teaching opportunity and follow through with it.
“Atwater really thought it was a really great way to unify the teachers, to get professional development so we all learn something that is the same, that’s really good practice for kids, and that we knew if we signed on to EL we would get a lot of learning … and it would be a long term commitment,” Malloy said.
Atwater teachers say they are looking forward to the future of the program and are glad they have come across this experience.
“It really complements what we’ve already been doing … we already were doing things like that, but this brings it all together in a way that makes the most sense,” Barry said.
Lake Bluff applied the aspects of EL shortly before Atwater did.
“The philosophies of EL is consistent with the philosophies of Outward Bound … there was an interest in bringing the practices of some of the philosophies of education and Outward Bound into the classroom experience [and that’s where Expeditionary Learning came from],” said Eric Norland, Lake Bluff principal.
Outward Bound is an organization that takes the concept expeditionary learning and pushes achievement through active learning, development of character in students and teamwork. The organization works with these aspects through a variety of environments.
“Lake Bluff has been a National School of Character for some time, and as the faculty here sought to grow in their practices, they felt that they have adopted some great practices in terms of character and saw [EL] as the next logical step to strengthen the school,” Norland said.
According to Norland, staff will be trained throughout the next four years.
“We work with [Expeditionary Learning] and they provide us with training opportunities and a school designer who [comes in and] works with our staff on a regular basis, about 30 days a year, to help us implement the strategies and training from EL,” Norland said
“It benefits the students [first of all] because you’re always going to learn the content, the curriculum is still going to continue, but to continue that character part, where you are putting out students that are good people and citizens, and looking at what kind of person you are going to be when you’re 30, not just getting into college, but what are you going to be,” said Michael Roberts, a multi age third teacher for third and fourth grade at Lake Bluff. “As a small district with a large population, it sets you apart from other schools, where if families are moving in, they can see … that this district is doing something very innovative that gets their kids out and gets their kids exposed to a lot of different things.”
by Maddie Gravelle