Estes Park Trail Gazette – A Lesson in Learning

Start with a mountain bike, throw in a little math, and add a scattering of physics and you have a summer class at Eagle Rock School and Professional Development Center. The local tuition-free, residential high school recently announced its 2005 summer trimester schedule that includes 18 classes, such as Let it Ride—Mountain Biking and Math, Elemental Poetry, Artnatomy, and Whatever the Heck You Want.

Eagle Rock students return this weekend from their trimester break and begin summer classes next week. The year-round school specializes in personalized learning experiences for 15 to 21-year-olds from diverse backgrounds who have not been successful in conventional high school settings. Around half of the school’s 96 students are from Colorado, the rest are from various places across the nation.

With block scheduling in the summer, instructors said they enjoy more freedom and can really dig into some of the interdisciplinary subjects.

“We definitely try to exploit the beautiful weather and natural setting we have here,” said Dan Condon, associate director of professional development. “We use the summer to try out some courses that are more expedition-based, so some classes go off-campus for a full day.”

Very few of the classes are repeated two trimesters in a row, and staff has fun coming up with fresh ideas for courses, said Condon.

“It starts as a brainstorming session,” he said. “We look at what type of interests our instructors and students have and then we figure out how to integrate a variety of courses into one learning experience. It’s a really creative process, ideas fly around the room, and we always want to put our students first. We look at what they need to fulfill their graduation requirements.”

For example, a class offered this summer called Colorado Rocks will give students an opportunity to gain credits in environmental science, science, writing and literature, and human performance.

“It’s more relevant and valuable to learn more than one subject at once,” said language arts and literature instructor Molly Nichols. “It’s harder to have interdisciplinary curriculum in your typical public school. For us, we don’t say ‘here’s your science text book, time for science.’ We can put a science and math instructor in the same room.”

Colorado Rocks is a team-taught class in which Nichols is one of four instructors.

“The essential question driving the course is ‘how do we change over time?’” said Nichols. “As we look at geology, we’ll study rock classification. And in that same day we’ll read about how humans have always felt the need to name things and the concept behind that, we’ll talk about how we can grow as people.

“And we’re rock climbing in the Park, where we’ll identify the rocks, and then students will sit and write about how they felt and their experiences. It’s a really cool conglomeration of different subjects with similar themes.”

Nichols is also teaching a class called Whatever the Heck You Want this summer, in which students will read and study whatever the heck they want, as long as they can get other students interested in the same topic.

“The class is based on Harvey Daniels’ Literature Circles, with emphasis on student choice and student-led discussion,” said Nichols. “When we give students choices they see the value of the ownership that they have and they have automatic interest in the text because they chose it.

“My goal is to increase their skills as readers, writers and thinkers, but also to incite a passion for the value of reading.”

In Let it Ride – Mountain Biking and Math, students will spend their time riding on Estes Park trails or building a mountain bike trail on campus. Students will learn the motions and forces that govern the physics of a mountain bike and will study the law of conservation on energy and how it applies to mountain biking experiences.

Another class called Green Thumb Bums incorporates gardening, service, environmental science, and botany. The class focuses are the resurrection of Eagle Rock’s bio shelter (greenhouse) and participating in the full process of plant growth from seed to sale at a local farmers market.

Summer curriculum includes five-week classes, with a 10-week summer musical called “Lucky Stiff.” The musical students will enjoy a trip to a Denver theatre and acting seminars and will perform the end-of-summer production for the community.

Eagle Rock is an accredited school funded by the American Honda Education Corporation. Students are admitted three times a year, in September, January, and May, and applications are due six months before each admission date.

Reprinted with permission © 2005
Estes Park
Trail-Gazette

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