Principal’s corner: Learning is a fun journey at Donner Trail Elementary |

Principal’s corner: Learning is a fun journey at Donner Trail Elementary

Sara Colborn
Special to the Sun
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TRUCKEE, Calif. — “Donner Trail … tracks on the path to lifelong learning.”

This is the year-long theme we have chosen at Donner Trail Elementary for 2015-16. We are a small multi-age magnet school, nestled on Donner Summit. Our path is to support all children to grow academically, socially, and emotionally as a “whole child” through rigorous, engaging, and active learning. Learning is a journey!

This fall, as the new principal, I’ve had the joy and pleasure of taking my first steps to get to know and appreciate our wonderful students, innovative staff, and dedicated families at Donner Trail. I’ve discovered a legacy of tradition balanced with invention.

Consider these tracks we’re making!

Project and Environmentally Based Learning

For two decades, the teachers of Donner Trail Elementary have prioritized collaborative learning that challenges students to apply their language arts and math skills in science-based contexts and problem solving.

Our Winter Survival program, Yuba River Day, Mono Lake and Bodie excursion, and fieldwork in our beautiful backyard near the Yuba River are prime examples of this research-based learning strategy. This year, these traditions are balanced with the new Next Generation Science Standards.

Imagine students in kindergarten through fifth grade, working together to generate questions and create experiments to determine what crayfish will eat and what shelters they’ll choose with live crayfish!

Enrichment Opportunities

Small school charm blends with high tech at Donner Trail Elementary. One day, students are singing traditional melodies and studying music theory. Another day, students are applying digital citizenship and computer literacy in our new Technology Lab.

On yet another day, Donner Trail Elementary students are in a physical education lesson building their cardiovascular stamina while practicing math, reading and listening at the same time!

Blending Communities

At Donner Trail Elementary, our neighborhood Summit families and “Town” families come together to create phenomenal experiences for our students. Imagine almost 50 families sitting down together for a potluck dinner just before Back to School Night.

Imagine more than 400 turkeys getting roasted for our annual Thanksgiving Dinner Fundraiser. Family and community volunteers are led by our PTO doing everything that needs to get down — from hanging signs to selling raffle tickets to soliciting donations for silent auctions to slicing, dicing, serving, and cleaning!

What’s Next on Our Path?

This year is a true example of our staff being models of lifelong learning. Along with the entire Tahoe Truckee Unified School District team, we are moving forward with the new California State Standards. Donner Trail Elementary teachers are implementing new district-adopted math instructional materials — that even requires that we play rigorous brain-bending games to develop number sense and fluency! With new assessments and student progress reporting systems, our staff also continues to use the tried and true practice of listening to students, communicating with families, and sharing our celebrations with our school community.

Even our endearing two-room schoolhouse needs “TLC” just like our students! Thanks to the community support of Measure U, we will begin a few renovations to upgrade the exterior and interior of our school this summer. As part of the facility upgrades funded by the bond, we will also add a front office and two more classrooms in the next few years. Along with the upgrades, Donner Trail Elementary will continue to embrace our multi-age model that maximizes student learning, mentorship, and empathy across classrooms and ages.

At Donner Trail Elementary, every child has a voice and an individualized educational plan throughout their educational journey at Donner Trail. Amongst the innovation and excitement of change, our Donner Trail family continues to hold true to a core belief: If students feel respected, safe and capable, they will be successful. Learning at Donner Trail Elementary is an adventure, and we are making tracks on the path to the best year ever!

Sara Colborn is principal at Donner Trail Elementary within the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District. Visit for more.

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