Eagle Rock School and Professional Development Center (ERS), an initiative of American Honda Education Corporation (AHEd), is two symbiotic entities. One is a small, national, residential, intimate, interdisciplinary, value-driven, rigorous, non-graded, intense, full scholarship high school enrolling up to 96 students for whom success has proved elusive. The other is a professional development center (PDC) which hosts up to 2000 visitors annually and works with interested educators on issues of secondary school reform and renewal. The PDC exports ideas, offers technical assistance, participates in national initiatives, conducts research, provides internships, publishes books and journal articles, and offers an alternative Colorado teaching certification.
Jeff Liddle, Director of Curriculum, Eagle Rock School and Professional Development Center
I am the director of curriculum. In that capacity I hire, train, and supervise 16 instructional specialists (teachers) in a full high school curriculum. I am also responsible for our academic standards, classroom discipline issues, staff scheduling including course load, evening and weekend coverage, oversight of the instructional budget, and function as part of the 5 member administrative / leadership team for the school.
The common characteristic of all entering students is that, absent a significant new path in their lives, they will not graduate from high school. Eagle Rock is a value-driven school. A fundamental philosophy, “Eight Plus Five Equals Ten,” has animated the school for more than a dozen years. The eight themes, five expectations, and ten commitments shape daily living; they are the source and purpose of ongoing conversations.
- The eight themes are physical fitness, intellectual discipline, aesthetic expression, spiritual development, cross-cultural understanding, democratic governance, environmental stewardship and service to others.
- The five expectations are expanding one’s knowledge base, effective communication, creating and making healthy life choices, becoming an engaged global citizen, and practicing leadership for justice.
- The ten commitments are living in respectful harmony with others; developing the body, mind and spirit; learning to communicate more effectively in speech and writing; serving Eagle Rock and other communities; becoming a steward of the planet; making choices that will support healthy living; finding, nurturing and developing the artist within; increasing the capacity to exercise leadership for justice in the world; practicing the art of democratic living; and devising an enduring moral and ethical code.
The academic program is based upon documentation of learning, is constructivist in nature, often integrates multiple subject areas, is highly experiential, and often integrates service learning processes and projects. Our “signature” so to speak that defines our school is our focus on integrating personal and academic growth throughout a student’s entire experience.
Our fundamental ideology operates off of 2 primary foundations; 1) cognitive processing (using the mind well), and 2) self-actualization (students reaching their unique potential). Our desired outcome is that students who have little to no hope of graduating from high school find a path to success through critical thinking and exploring their passions and strengths.
We work with students from all over the country. Our student body is very diverse by design. We’ve got students from NY, LA, rural Indiana, Denver, and everywhere in between. Some of our students have been heavily involved in gang activity and some simply learn in ways that are inconsistent with the way their public school offered an education. Many of our students have been mis-diagnosed as needing special education for learning issues that we do not experience. Some do have unique learning challenges. We don’t typically enroll students who have significant learning disabilities.
I don’t know that we’ve got any “breakthrough strategies.” Rather we find that through a variety of approaches students find success. Some of our practices include a focus on building a healthy community, small classrooms, the integration of personal growth with academic learning, building of healthy relationships between students and staff, student voice and democratic governance, integrated curriculum, place-based education, experiential education, project-based learning, and service learning. Our curriculum values depth over breadth, assessments are typically demonstrations and / or documentations of learning and understanding. We use portfolios, presentations, and projects evaluated by rubrics to measure whether work is worthy of credit. Students almost never take at traditional test at Eagle Rock. We don’t give grades (A, B, C, D, F). Rather students either demonstrate proficiency or they take another class and earn that credit in another way. All classes are differentiated by ability, age, maturity, and time at the school. We don’t have freshman, sophomore, junior, or senior class distinctions. Students graduate when they have demonstrated proficiency in all of our requirements which include both academic standards and personal growth work.
The thing that might be most distinctive about our work is the eclectic nature of our program. We borrow, adapt, and experiment with many different methods. Visitors to our school often comment on the ability of our students to advocate for what they need, voice their opinions, and engage in the functioning of the school. Our most successful instructors have the ability to develop personal connections with students, design and facilitate power learning experiences that are relevant to students lives. We don’t have many good lecturers. In fact you’d be hard pressed to hear a lecture on our campus.
Listed below are what we call the 5 essentials of Eagle Rock.
EAGLE ROCK ESSENTIALS
- MISSION: Eagle Rock’s mission is to improve public secondary education nationally through our Professional Development Center and a school that serves and graduates students who will make a difference in the world. Eagle Rock seeks adolescents who are not thriving in their current situations, for whom few positive options exist, and who are passionate about taking control of their lives and learning.
- LEADERSHIP: The leadership team works harmoniously and enthusiastically, and with colleagues, to advance Eagle Rock’s long–term greatness.
- STAFF: The Eagle Rock staff works as a team, engages in ongoing learning, and insists on excellence in performance.
- COMMUNITY: The Eagle Rock community affirms a village mindset that welcomes individuals, celebrates learning, builds strengths, and fosters relationships, all in the context of 8+5=10.
- CURRICULUM: Our curriculum originates in 8+5=10 and is learner-centered, experiential, strengths-based, relevant to global conditions, and achievable within a reasonable time period; its purpose is to promote teamwork and independent, imaginative thinking.