In 2011, St. Rose of Lima Catholic Academy chose to partner with EL Eduction (formerly Expeditionary Learning. EL is a growing network of 165 schools across the country. EL schools are currently present in 31 states and D.C., involve over 45,000 students and 4,000 teachers and leaders. As a Catholic school, St. Rose of Lima was the first Catholic EL Education school in the country and still only one of two faith-based schools in the country to adopt this model.
What is EL Education?
As one of the the only Catholic school members of a relatively new network, we are often asked:
What does it mean to be an Expeditionary Learning school?
What does EL mean at St. Rose?
How is EL helping St. Rose students, faculty members, and parents in their learning?
Can a school be EL and still Catholic?
Some of these questions can be answered by EL on eleducation.org; however the others are important for us to answer. The following is a brief outline of what Expeditionary Learning means at St. Rose.
“Ancora imparo” “I am always learning.” Our leaders and teachers live by this belief at St. Rose of Lima. We are constantly trying to better ourselves in our profession so that we can better serve our students. For this reason professional development is an integral part of our lives at St. Rose. Our leaders work with EL Education leaders and school designers to grow in their ability to run the school and facilitate professional development. Our teachers attend development workshops outside the school during the year and in the summer. Teachers also attend at least one professional development day each month run by the EL school designer, an after school development day each week facilitated by the administration, and one half-day development each month. In this way, teachers and leaders are constantly improving themselves as teaching professionals.
St. Rose teachers and leaders pledge to use consistent language whether it be in the classroom with students or in professional development sessions. Maintaining a consistent language has multiple benefits. Teachers who serve diverse age groups and varying topics can still have meaningful discussions about teaching pedagogy. With only one class per grade, this becomes even more important as collaboration must come from groups of teachers with differing backgrounds. When St. Rose teachers use the same language from Pre-K – 8, the students also benefit. Consistency from year to year allows students a “jump” past the traditional transition period for each grade.
Key words you may hear amongst the St. Rose of Lima students and faculty: learning target, high quality work, authentic audience, project, product, assessment, workshop,habits of a learner and more.
At St. Rose we emphasize teaching practices that value transparency between the teacher and the student. Students understand the goal or objective of each unit of study and why they are learning it. Teachers and students discuss how each lesson helps build upon the previous one and how each lesson moves toward the overall unit objective. Assignments are frequently given with clear and efficient rubrics, sometimes created with assistance from the students themselves. In making their teaching transparent so that students can understand it, teachers allow students to truly take ownership of their own learning.
Interim Standards-Based Assessments
St. Rose of Lima is committed not to being a data-driven community, but data-informed. The St. Rose leadership team has created interim assessments to be given at benchmark points throughout the year. These assessments provide an accurate measurement of whether students have achieved archdiocesan standards in math and literacy. Using these assessments, teachers collaborate with one another to discuss how they can best serve their students as the year continues.
Expeditions: Community-Based Projects or Units of Study
Our faculty frequently looks for ways to adapt our curriculum to discuss real world issues in our local and global communities. For example, our second grade class examined how humans interact with nature through a study of endangered Colorado animals in Science class. For another example, our sixth grade class wrote narratives and produced a play to be shown at our Celebration of Learning Night in Language Arts and Religion class. In teaching standards through real world problems, students are not only highly engaged, they can recognize the importance of their learning.
It is not rare to overhear teachers and students discussing the term “high-quality work” at St. Rose of Lima. Teachers emphasize the importance of completing every assignment to the best of your ability. This often means multiple drafts and revisions for each student. For more information, check out our student work page.
With a focus on community-based projects and units of study, St. Rose students also work to produce tangible products or presentations that have an authentic audience. These products or presentations have an authentic need or use in the community. For example, one year eighth grade students created a “Water Quality of the S. Platte River Guide” that has been collected and displayed for public use at the Denver Department of Environmental Health and the Greenway Foundation. Another example is the anti-bullying assembly written and produced by a former seventh grade class. This assembly was performed at three different Catholic middle schools in the diocese. In creating meaningful, authentic products and presentations, students have purpose for their learning.
Self-reflection is an integral part of learning as a student at St. Rose of Lima. Students are consistently asked to reflect on different parts of their life: their behaviors, their academic work, and their Catholicism. For example, students are asked to reflect on whether or not they have hit the learning target or objective at the end of each lesson. Older students discuss specifically where they are successful and where they still possess barriers to learning. In the process of constant self-reflection, students achieve a more defined meta-cognitive awareness of their own learning.
For the 2012-2013 school year, the St. Rose of Lima leadership team decided to begin a tradition of Language Arts, Math, and Religion family nights. With two for each subject, St. Rose hosted a total of 6 family nights throughout the year. These family nights were a tremendous success with great attendance. Since then, we continue to build opportunities for families to learn together and receive formation together. It allows us to truly embrace our belief that we are a community of learners, always learning.
Everything we do at St. Rose is done with the hopes that our students will go to college and get to heaven. In order to achieve these two goals, we work to develop the Catholic Scholar and Disciple of Jesus in each one of our students. As Janay Martinez, a 2013 graduate, states, “It is important that we should always be trying our best in everything we do. We shouldn’t follow what society says but what God says at all times. A scholar is someone who graduates from college 1, 2, or even 3 even times, but a Catholic scholar and disciple of Jesus is someone who graduates from college and shows his Catholic faith through good works everyday.” It is our hope that each of our students adapt this understanding of a Catholic Scholar and Disciple in their day to day lives after they graduate St. Rose.