‘Expedition’ will take raising a lot of money | VailDaily.com

‘Expedition’ will take raising a lot of money

Scott N. Miller

MINTURN – For the next four years, students, parents and teachers at Minturn Middle School have a little extra work to do: raising $50,000 a year.The money will pay for a new program called “expeditionary learning.” The five-year experiment costs a cool $250,000. The first $50,000 is in the bank, teachers are already being trained, and the program will start with next year’s eighth graders, who most likely will put together a comprehensive history for middle schoolers about the 10th Mountain Division.By the time the five-year program is fully in place, every student at the school will spend his or her middle school years working on historical projects and other “expeditions” designed to engage kids, and, in theory, improve scores on standardized tests.No guaranteesBut there are no guarantees in this experiment. Only the first year of the contract with Expeditionary Learning Outward Bound, the New York-based firm the school is using to start the program, is paid for, thanks to money found in the school’s budget for this year and donations from parents and businesses. From the 2007-08 school year on, though, the school and its parents need to find money on their own. The Eagle County School District will help find grant money, but there’s no general fund money available.Despite, the challenge a group of parents believe the fundraising will pay big dividends, both this year and down the road.”It really takes the idea of kids just sitting there and turns it on its head,” parent Betsy Edwards said. “It’s active, and that’s what the kids need.”Teachers, especially those who have been through a training session or two, seem to be catching the enthusiasm, too. After a day of training, teacher Stephanie Gallegos sent a gushing e-mail to Principal Toni Boush.”I can’t wait for next year to start, and to try out stuff this year,” Gallegos wrote. “I was already sold on expeditionary learning but now I know my life as a teacher will never be the same.”That excitement also is starting to trickle into classrooms.”Because they’re excited, that’s affecting kids right now,” parent Sally Ann Bluhm said. The teachers’ excitement is starting to spread to a growing group of parents who hadn’t really heard about the program before, Bluhm said. Kids are starting to get involved, too. A night of dinner and theater – with kids doing much of the cooking and most of the performing – is set for Dec. 15 to raise money for the program. Selling the programWhile parents are starting to get excited about Minturn Middle School’s future, only Bluhm has experience with raising money year after year. As director of Vail Valley Medical Center’s “Think First” program that gives ski and bike helmets to kids, Bluhm knows first-hand about getting individuals and businesses to start, and keep, writing checks for a worthy cause.”We never know where the donations are coming from,” Bluhm said. “But that program sells itself, and so will this one.”But to do that, there may need to be some visible results. That’s why the 10th Mountain Division project will be the first big project.When she was first looking at the idea, Boush saw expeditionary learning as a way to bring more kids into the school. Fewer than 175 kids are rattling around in a school built for twice that many, and a light student population means less money for teachers and programs. After delving deeper into it, though, Boush’s view has shifted a bit.”Enrollment is no longer the main reason for this,” she said. “Now, this is what we feel is best for the kids.”And, while doing projects can help keep kids interested in school, the reality of any new education program is the need to hit numerous state and federal targets for student achievement.”We won’t miss a beat,” on those tests, Boush said. “In fact, I think they’ll probably perform better.”Parent Tori Graskamp thinks combining all of a student’s studies into one project will help them perform better.”When you have something like algebra in this type of setting, when it’s turned toward a goal, the parts can really start to fit together,” she said.Staff Writer Scott N. Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14624, or smiller@vaildaily.com.Vail Daily, Vail Colorado

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