NESTLED AWAY IN THE MOUNTAINS OF ESTES PARK, COLORADO, a “final chance,” residential learning environment is reimagining what it means to educate young learners. And, they have been doing so since 1993. With only 72 learners in attendance at any given time, Eagle Rock School prides itself on accepting learners who “demonstrate a passion and motivation to actively pursue intellectual and personal growth, and attain personal achievement outside the classroom.”
Every Eagle Rock learner begins their educational journey on a 24-day wilderness expedition that sets the tone for their entire learning experience. It is meant to demonstrate the importance of community and how much more can be accomplished through the combined strengths of their peers. And, during the expedition’s final week, learners are tasked with battling the elements on their own. By pursuing the simple goal of survival with just their own brains and wit, learners must grapple with the limitations and presumptions they’ve made about their abilities and potential—often informed by a past full of impalpable experiences—and create brand new headspace for a reimagined future.
The wilderness expedition permeates every aspect of Eagle Rock School. When facing a difficult task on their learning journey, learners reflect on the adversity they overcame during those 24 days—feeling uncomfortable, experiencing failure, unsure what the next step is—and use it as motivation to push forward and reach their goals. This cultivation of their internal drive creates in them a strong sense of learner agency. And, Eagle Rock’s model allows that agency to grow exponentially.
As a residential learning environment, learners live in co-ed housing where each socially embedded family unit teams up to democratically create basic household rules, divvy up responsibilities (e.g. chores), and establish social meetings. These units create an atmosphere where learners can, possibly for the first time in their lives, “feel safe, emotionally nourished, and comfortable.”
With this newfound safety, learners enter their more formal learning experiences mentally charged to prove what they’re capable of. Eagle Rock learning is designed to be personalized, relevant, and contextualized, set on a competency-based foundation. This allows learners to navigate the winding roads of any learning challenge with their interests and passions at the forefront and at a pace optimized for their learning needs.
Learning is a 24/7 adventure at Eagle Rock. From the wilderness expedition, to the residential life component, to the more formal learning spaces, every minute of every day is an opportunity to further develop one’s knowledge, skills, and dispositions. By creating a culture founded on the belief that anyone and everyone can realize their potential, Eagle Rock School is proving every child can become successful, lifelong learners when met where they are and provided the supports necessary to become agents in their learning.