School: ROCKY MOUNTAIN SCHOOL of EXPEDITIONARY LEARNING (a.k.a. RMSEL “rem-zul”)
Type: RMSEL-Public School of Choice (BOCES-Board of Cooperative Educational Services)
Open Houses/Tours: Tours are on the first Thursday of every month (except April) September through May at 8:30 AM.
Admission Process: Please visit the enrollment page of the RMSEL Website for full details.
Main Phone: 303-759-2076
Hours: 8:00 AM – 3:30 PM
Executive Director: Chad Burns
Operations Director (and Enrollment): Leann Asgari
Location: 1700 South Holly Street, Denver, CO 80222 (Hampden / Virginia Vale Neighborhood)
Average Class Size: 24 – never to exceed 25
Before/After Care: Afterschool programs are run by the YMCA as well as various enrichment programs run by parents, staff and community members.
Facilities and Playground: RMSEL is located in the former Ash Grove Elementary school in southeast Denver. The building is old and certainly nothing special to look at. The playground, though I didn’t get much of a tour of the outside, looks aged and in need of a serious upgrade too. This is one of those cases where you simply can’t judge a book by its cover. There is a lot more to RMSEL than meets the eye.
Special & Core Programs: The RMSEL philosophy is based on the principles of Outward Bound and organizes its curriculum around multidisciplinary learning expeditions. They place a high value on interdisciplinary learning, collaborative learning, active engagement in real issues, content and skills, development and demonstrations of deep knowledge, higher-order thinking skills and effective communication, service and character. The have the usual PE, art and technology specials and once students reach the high school grades they have Spanish. Due to budgetary issues, the music and Spanish programs have been limited.
Impressions: If there is any indication of how great a school is by how crowded the open houses are, then the Rocky Mountain School of Expeditionary learning must be something very special. It was a snowy and freezing morning yet there must have been 80-100 brave and interested souls crowding the auditorium. I was greeted by just about the cutest and friendliest students (one 5th grader and one 6th grader). At the door they directed me into the room and over to a table where the Director of Operations, Leann Asgari, stood answering questions and explaining the nuances of the student portfolios on display. The wall was painted with the school motto: “We Are Crew Not Passengers.” Now how about that! A school that encourages students to be leaders and not followers that requires being involved and not going along for the ride, and one that develops and nourishes each student’s talents by allowing the study of personal interests. Education at RMSEL is about taking a journey; not simply a ride through mandatory subject matter.
RMSEL has been accredited as a “School of Distinction” which includes high graduation rates (last year it was 100%), student satisfaction and rigorous academic standards. What makes this particularly interesting is just as the students are continually learning, so too are the staff. The teachers at RMSEL spend at least two hours a week (after or before school hours) on continuing education – they are expected to do so or they will not last long at the school.
As I sat there and listened to the Executive Director, Kerry Lord, and the Administrative Director, Keri Melmed, speak passionately about their school, I felt inspired by their enthusiasm and dedication to a community of thinkers and doers. What I keep trying to remember is that as we look at schools, we cannot forget that it is our children that will be spending their days in this environment. Is it the right place for them – not us? Do we like or dislike this school because of our own mores and values or do our little ones need a school like this to help them blossom into the person they are already beginning to be?
Of all of the school tours and open houses I’ve been to, I felt the most informative and helpful to be those that included the students in the mix. There really is no excuse for leaving out the exact people that your children will be exposed to as peers. At RMSEL, those that greeted me were 5th graders and 6th graders. Every DPS, private, faith-based, charter, etc. goes up to at least 5th grade. There couldn’t be a better way to teach leadership, social skills and self-confidence than having them greet or speak to adults. At RMSEL, a panel full of students, 5th through 12th grade spoke about their experiences at the school. They were articulate and exuded confidence and pride in their school. Their little hearts may have been beating with fear– but we never would have known it. How many of you can get up in front of a crowd of 100 people and speak without notes or serious medication?!
While visiting the classrooms, once again, they were nothing special too look at but what was within those walls did seem special. The students were engaged, friendly and by the sheer number of wool hats being worn, sure didn’t mind that it was freezing cold in the building! I witnessed two way communications between students and teachers. Groups of students in a classroom are called a “crew” – which is their motto. The kids encourage fellow classmates in their crew.
It may be too early to tell, but if your child is showing signs of interest in exploration or design or oceanography or physical fitness – perhaps botany or paleontology or photography or sustainability, this might be the school for them. Though the students are encouraged to explore any subject which is of great interest to them, more often than not, it seemed to be something in the area of the sciences. No matter what the interest, it was clear that each student, throughout their years, is strongly encouraged by crewmates and staff and become heavily invested in succeeding.