NAIS Superpower Spotlight: Eagle Rock Students

“When I went to school myself, the staff didn’t trust student voices. In fact, they never asked our opinions on much of anything, except perhaps where the prom should be held.” Stanley Richards was a teaching fellow and alternative licensure candidate at Eagle Rock for a year. “What a loss!” he said. “Now that I’m at Eagle Rock, preparing to be a teacher, I cannot imagine not engaging students in discussions about what affects their lives profoundly – their own education. And, I cannot imagine learning about education in any better way. They are my best teachers.”

Having voice affects not only teacher candidates and fellows, like Stanley. It affects teaching staff, who depend on students to help them learn. It also affects visitors to the school’s professional development center. Here they dare to ask questions they cannot ask students in their own schools – and are surprised that students are so smart and knowledgeable about learning. Students, themselves, learn from having voice. They learn from each other, and they understand themselves better when they are given voice. “My school affects me by allowing me to hear my voice,” said Leslie, a student. How beguiling to think that hearing their own voices, perhaps for the first time in their educational histories, helps students gain self-knowledge.

Eagle Rock staff are certain that the school thrives because it depends on student voices to embrace the myriad challenges of education, especially the education of adolescents who have not succeeded in school previously. Eagle Rock is an intentionally small, independent school in Estes Park, Colorado; it welcomes visitors to its professional development center; and it hosts fellows and licensure candidates who are part of Eagle Rock’s community for an entire year. Eagle Rock School and Professional Development Center was developed as a philanthropic project to serve two purposes:

1. Graduate young people who have the desire and are prepared to make a difference in the world.

2. Positively affect education, primarily in the United States.

These seem like simple enough goals, until you realize that Eagle Rock intentionally enrolls students who many people think are the hardest to educate in U.S. schools – those who have dropped out and, perhaps, made decisions that jeopardized their lives (and the lives of others). The second purpose of Eagle Rock to some extent explains the first goal. Besides wanting to do something to help students who have been lost to the education system, the founders of Eagle Rock also wanted to have an effect on education, especially in the United States. By selecting hard-to-educate young people – rather than those who are successful in school no matter what the conditions are – Eagle Rock gains credibility. The strategies that work at Eagle Rock have validity because they work for those for whom success in traditional schools has been elusive.

The school would probably not exist were it not for the second purpose, improving education, not just in the United States but worldwide. The professional development center would probably not work were it not for the school, which is a living laboratory for educators.

We celebrate super students at Eagle Rock – and everywhere!

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