North Routt Community Charter School pursuing accreditation |

North Routt Community Charter School pursuing accreditation

Teresa Ristow

— When students at North Routt Community Charter School tackle a new subject area, they dive deep into their learning and steer clear of textbooks whenever possible.

Fifth- and sixth-grade students kicked off their latest expedition — focused on the Dust Bowl of the 1930s — last week with a visit to the History Colorado Center in Denver.

Their social studies curriculum will remain focused on this one historical event for several weeks. Students will read novels of historical fiction on the event and work up to a final project that displays what they've learned.

The project-based, expeditionary learning approach focuses deeply on one subject or event at a time and proves more effective than having students memorize several historical events out of a textbook, said Brandon LaChance, executive director and principal at the school.

"We're leading kids to be real learners," LaChance said. "We dive deep."

The projects still follow state standards but also aim to incorporate ample outside resources and experts.

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Though the school has always favored project-based learning, the heavy focus on being an expeditionary learning school began in 2012, when the charter school was awarded a $35,000 grant from the Education Fund to pursue expeditionary learning training for teachers.

Over the last five years, the school has improved its performance scores with EL Education, an organization that reviews the progress of EL schools based on several expeditionary learning goals.

EL Education was previously affiliated with outdoor education organization Outward Bound but is now a separate entity that scores and ultimately provides accreditation for EL schools.

North Routt has recently been invited by the organization to pursue accreditation as one of only a handful of EL schools in the United States, and school staff members are working to fine tune their practices to build an EL Education portfolio and earn the designation.

To receive accreditation as an EL school, North Routt will need to score high on a series of benchmarks that measure the school's curriculum, instruction, assessment practices, culture and character and leadership.

"It is pretty significant," LaChance said. "We have to do certain things correct to move onto this next tier as an EL school."

Last week, LaChance visited an EL school in Silverton, which has a strong field work program and is also starting the accreditation process, as well as a project-based school in Aspen to swap ideas.

If accredited, other expeditionary learning schools will look to North Routt for guidance and even pay to visit the school and learn from the teachers.

"We could be the hub to teach other schools and teachers our practices," LaChance said.

To reach Teresa Ristow, call 970-871-4206, email or follow her on Twitter @TeresaRistow