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Pennington Elementary shifts to expeditionary learning school

The new instructional model will be implemented in the fall


An old school will be teaching students some new tricks at Pennington Elementary School in Wheat Ridge.

The school, located at 4617 Independence St., will transition into an expeditionary learning (EL) school for the 2018-19 school year.

The EL instructional model is exemplified by project-based learning expeditions, where students engage in interdisciplinary, in-depth study of compelling topics, in groups and in their community, with assessment coming through cumulative products, public presentations, and portfolios.

Students will undertake tasks requiring perseverance, fitness, craftsmanship, imagination, self-discipline, and significant achievement.

“We’re excited about this at Pennington because we believe it will build on some of the current structures that are there,” said Karen Quanbeck, Jeffco schools’ chief of schools for elementary.

Pennington currently has a 21st Century Learning Grant which allows it to offer extended learning time — students have a longer school day and they get more enrichments and hands-on learning.

The challenge, Quanbeck said, was making those hands-on experiences happen throughout the whole school day.

Staff says becoming an EL school will do that.

“There’s a firm belief that if kids aren’t chained to their desk, that’s much more interesting and engaging and that’s going to drive their learning in a way that is deeper and more authentic,” Quanbeck said.

Pennington Elementary is a school that have been challenged with low enrollment numbers — a challenge that landed the school on the potential chopping block when the district was contemplating closing five elementary schools last year.

With an enrollment under 200, less than 100 students actually live in the boundary. It is also a Title 1 school, meaning that it is a high percentage of students who meet the qualifications for free or reduced lunch.

Diana Wilson, chief communications officer for Jeffco schools, said being named on the closure list did have an impact on the school’s enrollment, which dropped even lower this school year.

“It’s a small school challenged with enrollment,so we thought about what we do to revitalize school,” Wilson said. “EL was one idea.”

Quanbeck said it’s all about changing the experience, having kids engage and creating a school that can build enrollment and capture kids outside of the Pennington boundary.

District officials hope that the specialized instructional model will serve not only current Pennington families, but will draw students from Wheat Ridge and throughout the district who are interested in the hands-on instruction.

“Our poverty schools don’t always get that hands on learning,” Quanbeck said. “EL elevates that as a priority. All kids deserve amazing opportunities.”

Jeffco has one other EL certified school — Dutch Creek Elementary in the in the Littleton area. Bradford K-8 and Jeffco Open schools also embrace the EL model, though they are not certified.

“El is rigorous academic content but it also embeds the character component into the lesson,” said Jennifer Pennell, principal at Dutch Creek.

Since switching to the EL model last year, Pennell said she has seen a change in the students.

“Parents stop me and say that their kids are engaged and those who are typically introverts and shy will not stop talking about what learning in school,” Pennell said.

At Pennington, the shift will coincide with the retirement of current principal, Sandy Craig. Once a new principal is hired, he or she along with the district will start holding community meetings about the shift.

The district did have meetings with current Pennington parents and staff to discuss the idea and Quanbeck said the response was “overwhelmingly positive.”

If interested, those who live outside the Pennington zinging area will be able to choice into the school during the second round of choice enrollment running Feb. 9 through Aug. 31.


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