Principal’s Corner: Connecting SELS students with Truckee community
The students at Sierra Expeditionary Learning School (SELS) connect academics and build character in part through community engagement and acts of service.
As an Expeditionary Learning (EL) Education network school, embedding learning into the local community is considered vital to the educational process. Each year SELS students enhance their practical skills and academic retention through their community involvement.
School-wide, SELS students participate in a yearly service project connected to the greater EL education network called Better World Day (this year on May 3). This year the student-led campaign has focused on the Paradise community that was strongly impacted by fires last fall, and have collected funds with donation jars at more than 20 local Truckee businesses.
In the classrooms, by grade level, our teachers use concrete experiences in the community to better connect students to their learning and to ground the information in real life places and people, helping students make sense of and better retain information, and providing them with expanded opportunities for job and life skills development.
In kindergarten and first grade, one focus is on building community: teaching students how to be kind and engaged members of their crews and school community. Students also learn about actual building. With the help of parents, they learn the development process of ideas, surveys, designs, building models, building something concrete, and presenting their final product to the school community. Over the years, they have constructed balance beams, games and play areas, benches, and birdhouses for our school.
In second and third grades, students learn the history of our area, especially old town, the transcontinental railroad, ice harvesting, forestry, Donner Lake/Summit, and Boca. With this information, students created a fun flyer of the “Top Ten things to do in Truckee for Kids Under Ten” available at Donner State Park and the Welcome Center. To celebrate the Sesquicentennial of the Golden Spike, the Truckee Historical Society has made a Truckee Summer Passport in which SELS students created art for the stamps and provided information for the historical sites highlighted in the Passport.
SELS fourth and fifth grade students have been actively involved in their “Outlaw the Straw” campaign for over a year. While studying oceans, the students became fired up after seeing a video of a sea turtle with a straw stuck in its nose. They immediately developed a campaign, brainstormed a slogan (Outlaw the Straw) and logo, researched alternatives to the plastic straw and solicited local businesses with this information to encourage their participation. In February our students presented to the Truckee Town Council about adopting the campaign and the Town Council was very receptive and agreed to move forward with the idea). This grounded, real-life project expanded the students’ ideas of their own empowerment and enhanced several valuable life skills.
While studying ancient civilizations, SELS sixth grade students tried their hand at bread making. Using ancient grains, they went through the process and then donated the fresh loaves to Project Mana. Additionally, for their climate change curriculum, they are currently working with several community professionals to design and build a bike rack with QR codes linking to climate change information and podcasts.
SELS seventh grade students spend much of the year connected to a community Mentor. They spend time with, conduct interviews, and learn the value these citizens bring to the community. As a recognition of their partnerships, students write essays about their mentor and with an artistic portrait develop a book of Truckee’s community members.
In eighth grade, students are required to take on individual social action projects. For one social action project, a student-organized a climate change walkout in coordination with an international movement inspired by a Swedish 16 year old. Most middle school students stood on Donner Pass Road declaring their climate positions and were rewarded by responsive Truckee drivers. They also made the cover of the Sierra Sun, thereby extending their message to a larger community.
At SELS we are so proud of our students’ service work and our local community. Truckee locals have time and again demonstrated invaluable support for these projects, by both inspiring students and helping them further develop the skills required to be active and informed citizens.
David Manahan is principal at Sierra Expeditionary Learning School.