Frequently Asked Questions about SELS and Expeditionary Learning

Q: What is a learning expedition?

A: Learning expeditions are the signature Expeditionary Learning curricular structure—they are long-term, project-based, interdisciplinary units of study.

Learning expeditions make content standards come alive for students. These long-term, in-depth studies offer real-world connections that inspire students toward higher levels of academic achievement. Learning expeditions involve students in original research, critical thinking, and problem solving, and they build character along with academic skills. All learning expeditions explicitly focus on building literacy skills in students, particularly in the reading and writing of nonfiction text. Learning expeditions take multiple, powerful elements of the EL model and join them together: guiding questions, kickoff experiences, case studies, projects, lessons, fieldwork, experts, service learning, and a culminating event featuring high-quality student work. All of these structures can also be used independently, outside of full learning expeditions.

Q: Expeditionary? Expeditions? Does that just mean you go camping?

A: Learning expeditions use the metaphor of an expedition to explain our approach to education. Our expeditions are journeys of inquiry and critical thinking that are undertaken by students and teachers with the purpose of discovering new heights in academics and character. The Oxford English Dictionary describes an expedition as, “a journey or voyage undertaken by a group of people with a particular purpose, especially that of exploration or research.” At SELS, the people, places, knowledge, skills reasoning, and character all combine in pursuit of a common goal.

As one facet of our expeditions, we engage in fieldwork that takes our students and staff outside of our campus for focused, integrated, academically rigorous investigations. These may be in the local community, across the state or nation, or in the natural world.

Adventure is the context though which SELS students develop character and a sense of Crew, the idea that we are all crew pulling the oars of a boat, not simply passengers along for the ride. Our adventure activities include what many people commonly conceive of ‘expeditionary’ in the general sense. We camp, hike, climb, and challenge our students to learn outdoors. These experiences are the vehicle through which our students develop character.

Q: What is fieldwork? How is it different from a field trip?

A: Fieldwork is field research and/or investigation done by students. EL distinguishes fieldwork from “field trips.” In fieldwork, students are active researchers and not passive observers of a prepared experience. For example, a field trip might involve elementary school students taking a guided tour at a restored colonial village. Fieldwork, on the other hand, might have those students “apprentice” themselves to a particular craftsman at the village, helping with the work, interviewing, and taking photos, becoming an “expert” in that craft. Fieldwork in EL schools often involves service learning, such as testing local water sources for pollutants. See Fieldwork page for more details.

Q: What is a charter school?

A: A charter school is a publicly funded school, operated with the endorsement and support of a public school district, in our case Tahoe Truckee Unified School District. Charter schools are open to all students, regardless of race, religion, gender, status, or other preference. However, a charter school may have a limited capacity for enrollment, and must by law use a lottery when more students apply than the student-teacher ratio allows. Charter schools are subject to the same laws and regulations as other public schools, and must conform to guidelines regarding religion in schools, school fees, civil rights, annual reports, and health and safety regulations. Charter schools follow the same regulations in hiring of teachers as public schools, and teachers are required to hold valid teaching certificates and meet state board requirements. While charter schools have more flexibility in their curriculum, they must base their curriculum on state standards. At SELS, we administer, and are accountable for, the same high-stakes standardized tests that all public school students must take.

Q: Do I have to pay tuition?

A: No. SELS is a publicly funded school. Tuition and donations are not required. Fees are subject to state regulations, just as they are as in traditional public schools.

Q: Does SELS require uniforms?

A: No. SELS does not require a uniform. See the Student Handbook for our dress code.

Q: Will there be bus service for SELS students?

A: Yes. SELS students may purchase the same bus passes available to Tahoe Truckee Unified School District students. The TTUSD busses drop students off and picks them up at our school campus.

Q: Will school lunch be offered for my students?

A: Yes. SELS participates in the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District hot lunch program, and offers a healthy daily menu, provided at the same cost as is charged for all other TTUSD students. Students who qualify for free and reduced lunch in the TTUSD Free/Reduced Lunch program will receive either the appropriate discount or lunches free of charge.

Q: What is the curriculum offered at SELS?

A: Please check our Curriculum page. In a climate of physical and emotional safety, we take a student-centered active learning approach that focuses on questioning, critical thinking, and problem-solving, while ensuring students exceed California state academic standards in: Reading, Writing, Speaking and Presenting, Math, Science, Social Studies, Handwriting and Spelling, Computer research and Technical skills, Physical Education, and Fine Arts. Above and beyond the state standards, all SELS learners engage in a standards-based curriculum that includes assessments on: character, habits of scholarship, and the EL Design Principles. Students share their work in portfolios and at public Celebrations of Learning.

Q: How many children will be in each class?

A: Class sizes are 20-25 students in a given mixed-age classroom

Q: What is Expeditionary Learning?

A: “It’s an example of how schools should be,” according to President Obama, and “the way students want to learn,” according to US Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan. Among the hallmarks of an Expeditionary Learning school are: students engaged in rigorous academic work and helping one another, teachers with a passion for teaching, schools with a culture of service and community. Literacy is central and reading and writing are integrated throughout the curriculum. Character development and teamwork are not just emphasized, but embedded in school structures, practices and rituals and integrated into the academic program. In Expeditionary Learning schools, much of the academic work is done in learning expeditions — long-term investigations of important questions and subjects that include individual and group projects, fieldwork, and performances and presentations of student work. Active pedagogy, the type of instruction practiced in an EL classroom, is the norm whether or not there is a learning expedition underway. For more information, visit http://www.elschools.org.

Q: How do I enroll in SELS?

A: You may fill out and submit our Enrollment Application in person at one of our Information Nights. Attendance at one of these events is required to make an application active. SELS is part of the public education system and is open to all students. But in order to have the best learning environment, SELS has limited class sizes and a limited number of classes. Because of this, there may be more students interested in the school than there are spots. In this event, a random lottery will be held to determine which students will be selected. Siblings of children selected and children of founding members will also have preference. After that, if there is still space available, it will be filled on a first-come, first-serve basis. Keep an eye on our website and subscribe to our mailing list to stay in touch. You can also follow SELS on Facebook or Twitter.

Q: How much parent involvement is required?

A: Charter schools depend on the willingness of parents to be involved in their child’s education. Parents should plan to volunteer and contribute 30+ hours per school year per family. Families who are able contribute significantly more. SELS requires parent involvement for (among other areas): classroom volunteering, fieldwork support and helping reinforce academics and character at home.

A K – 8th public charter school in Truckee, CA