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El Paso County Colorado District 49

D49’s Charter School Offers Unique Curriculum

Pikes Peak School of Expeditionary Learning (PPSEL) is a charter school for students from pre-school to eighth grade, operating under the authority of District 49. It is located at 5450 Meridian Road on the Falcon Christian Church property.The school, in its fifth year, was originally Black Forest Charter School, chartered under a three-year contract with Academy School District 20. Since the school is within the physical boundaries of District 49 and only 12 percent of its student enrollment was from District 20, the move to District 49 was a logical choice.PPSEL is now accountable to the District 49 school board, its own charter school board and is under a professional development contract with the Expeditionary Learning Outward Bound (ELOB) organization, whose education model PPSEL follows. A school consultant from ELOB is at the school 30 days each year.The expeditionary learning model began when educators realized how Outward Bound programs were helping students learn. Outward Bound programs take students into natural settings, building confidence and stretching their limits physically and mentally.The expeditionary learning model is unique in that each grade takes a topic and studies it in depth. All disciplines are based around that topic; information is generalized to other topics. The school adheres to Colorado State Content Standards and takes part in Colorado standardized tests (CSAP). CSAPs often do not give an accurate picture of a small school’s success, so Don Knapp, the principal of PPSEL, prefers to examine the abilities of each individual student. He said, “If we’re true to the Outward Bound program, we need to challenge each child from where they are. My job is to make sure they’re progressing.”Lessons are learned with purpose, with a specific audience in mind. For example, this year the third and fourth graders were studying the power of water. December’s tsunami disaster occurred and they realized the real-life implications of that power. The two classes wrote poems and created artwork around the power of water. They printed full-color postcards from their poems and art, which they are selling as a fundraiser for tsunami victim relief.The curriculum is one of the reasons Curtis Mitchell and his wife chose PPSEL for their children. Their son, Matt, is in his third year at PPSEL. “We were looking for an alternative that had a different model of learning that would be tailored to their needs,” Mitchell said. “We’ve really been pleased.” The Mitchells, who previously home schooled all their children, also appreciate the smaller class sizes and the focus on character development.Suzan Pruitt, who has four children enrolled at PPSEL, appreciates the small size of the school for several reasons. She said her children – Zachary, Melodie, Nikki and Alyssa – are treated as individuals and allowed to work at their own pace. Because of the school size, there is a family atmosphere among the staff, faculty, board and parents.Charter schools in general invite more parental involvement and give parents a voice in how the school is run. PPSEL uses parent volunteers extensively. Because of the ELOB model, students do much fieldwork, and parent volunteers provide the transportation. Parents also are utilized in small group tutoring, publishing a newsletter, fundraisers, the lunchroom and the parking lot. In addition, parent volunteers comprise the curriculum and facilities committees.PPSEL, perhaps because of its size and level of parental involvement, has no major social issues among its students. The level of respect between the staff and parents implements a caring, supportive attitude that filters down to the students. Carmella Miller, a parent with five children at PPSEL, said the style of learning and fieldwork involved in the curriculum promotes a concern for others and community. Often the older students are encouraged to help the younger students.PPSEL currently has about 180 students enrolled with a student to teacher ratio of 18 to one. The school employs 10 full-time Colorado-certified teachers, two office workers and three specialists (physical education, art and library/computer). They also have a special education teacher employed by District 49. Knapp said the relationship with D49 is working well.And community participation is welcome. The school has a spring carnival planned and the funds raised will be used for library books, computers and building improvements.PPSEL has just a few openings for new students this year, but welcomes parents to apply and be included on the waiting list. “I think we’re maxed out because we’re an alternative to overcrowded classrooms,” Knapp said. “ELOB is becoming more prominent and they (parents) are intrigued by the concept.” In April, the school will begin taking registrations for next fall.Mitchell, who also serves on the board, believes that PPSEL is meeting a need in the community. “For the kids who are falling through the cracks, there’s an opportunity for them to excel here,” he said. “One size doesn’t always fit all.”

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