Estes Park Trail Gazette – Eagle Rock Sets School Model

Eagle Rock School and Professional Development Center’s unique look at education is turning heads, inspiring the construction of similar facilities around the state.

Located in Estes Park off of Hwy 34 east, the tuition-free, residential year-round school specializes in personalized learning experiences for 15 to 21-year-olds from diverse backgrounds who haven’t been successful in conventional high school settings.

The Coalition of Essential Schools (CES) announced the opening of 12 new high schools this past fall, launched through the CES Small Schools Project. Modeled after Eagle Rock, Skyview Academy of Mapleton Public Schools in Thornton, Colo. opened this month.

Skyview Academy was established through a unique school-to-school approach for school planning and design pioneered by the CES Small School Project in which their new school design team was matched with Estes Park’s Eagle Rock.

“Eagle Rock School has a long history of positive impact on young people that most public schools would have tossed aside; I have witnessed a purposeful, explicit, and transparent way of building and sustaining a positive culture,” said Skyview director Eldon Wire.

“They have a dedicated, knowledgeable staff that connects life and learning for all students.”

Through Eagle Rock and the Public Education and Business Coalition, Skyview staff are being pushed to a much deeper level of looking at teaching and learning, Wire said.

“We have learned to go deeper in our thinking about relevance and connections, relationships and offering all students access to deeper learning,” he said.

The peer-to-peer approach takes advantage of CES’s 20 years of experience in educational innovation to launch the next generation of exemplary high schools, said CES director Lewis Cohen.

Over the next three years, the Small Schools Project is participating in the creation of up to 35 new high schools.

Currently the Small Schools Project network boasts 20 CES mentor schools, including Eagle Rock School and Professional Development Center. Eagle Rock School has shared their experience in implementing the CES Common Principles, a proven and practical approach to school reform that is at the heart of today’s small schools movement.

“The research demonstrates that schools effectively implementing the CES Common Principles have higher graduation rates and send more students to college,” said Small School Project Co-Director Laura Flaxman.

CES does not offer a prescriptive model for school design, but uses an extensive planning and design process that involved administrators, teachers, students, and families.

“These schools will make a difference in the lives of children and families who haven’t had access to an intellectually challenging and meaningful high-school education,” said project co-director Mara Benitez. “Not only will this open up a lifetime of opportunities for these students, but it will also drive the national conversation around effective school reform, propelling the small schools movement towards high quality, intellectually challenging and equitable schools.”

The CES Small Schools Project, a five-year initiative made possible by an $18.7 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, will eventually result in a nationwide network of more than 50 schools.

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