My Turn: An expeditionary learning school on Tahoe’s North Shore |

My Turn: An expeditionary learning school on Tahoe’s North Shore

KINGS BEACH, Calif. – We are not a traditional educational institution. We break the mold in many ways. Yet, our approach to high-level academics may soon be the standard in a world where parents, communities and teachers alike crave a meaningful education for children.

Without question, Expeditionary Learning is gaining momentum as a revolutionary reform model across the nation. As evidenced by the $20 million the Gates Foundation has donated since 2003 to create 25 EL schools, the growing number of teachers who have chosen to become trained in this approach and President Obama’s verbal endorsement in 2009, when he cited EL as an “example of how all our schools should be,” we are heading in the right direction by using Expeditionary Learning as a way to engage, motivate and teach students.

As an EL school, we spend one-third of our school days learning experientially in the field. With Tahoe as our home, we use its unique natural setting as a classroom and laboratory. Tahoe is the driving force behind our curriculum at Tahoe Expedition Academy; it is the lens through which we view the world.

Unlike a traditional school that “covers” a wide spectrum of content over the course of a year, the Expeditionary Learning model – created by Kurt Hahn and Outward Bound – allows students to dive deep into compelling topics. These project-based, interdisciplinary academic ventures follow an “inch-wide, mile deep” approach. They allow students to understand subjects from multiple perspectives, various types of media, primary sources and interactions with local experts.

These learning expeditions enrich and promote the educational process by involving case studies on local issues, service in the community and products with real-world relevance and applicability. This fall, for example, our students will hike and backpack over a 12-mile segment of the Tahoe Rim Trail to study native trees and plants. This winter, they will snowshoe into the forest and mountains to measure snow pack and learn about winter ecology. This spring, they will learn about water rights and follow water’s voyage as it travels from Tahoe’s peaks to Pyramid Lake.

By completing Tahoe-centric learning expeditions, our students grow as scientists, authors, historians, mathematicians and human beings. By following the “crew not passengers” EL motto, our students build character, develop self-reliance and acquire knowledge through practical, hands-on investigations – all of which contribute to a meaningful and memorable education for our children.

Join TEA and the EL movement on the north shore of Lake Tahoe. Give us a call and schedule a visit to see our Expeditionary Learning model in action. Our schoolhouse doors in Kings Beach open for the first time this September, with only a few spots still available. If you will be there too, we hope to see you on the trails, in the forests and on the mountaintops for years to come.

Taylor Simmers, the author of this article, is a middle school teacher and Co-Director at Tahoe Expedition Academy. Learn more at, or call 530-231-7755.

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