Background and History
Creation of the EAS learning community.
The Environmental and Adventure school began in 1999 as a staff initiated "choice" school in the Lake Washington School District. Choice schools offer Lake Washington School District families options within the public school environment. They are funded at the same student / teacher dollars ratio as all other schools in the district.
In 1997, the Lake Washington School District superintendent invited teachers to design and propose staff-initiated schools for the purpose of providing more options for students and families in our district. In response, four teachers (Eileen McMackin, Brian Healy, Wayne Tannhauser, and John Hamilton) held a meeting to discuss the needs of adolescent students and ideas for a staff-initiated school. We found we held the common beliefs that adolescent youth need:
- to experience teamwork and a sense of purposeful belonging in their community
- opportunities for academic, social, and physical challenge and achievement
- active involvement in their learning
- opportunities to develop and apply leadership skills
- partnerships with mentors in the larger community and opportunities to mentor others
- connections with their natural surroundings
Out of these common beliefs we drafted a Vision-Mission-Beliefs statement as a basis for our school proposal. We shared our dreams and ideas and engaged in pedagogical discussions. The development of the vision, mission, and beliefs on which we would base the formation of our school was an empowering and inspiring process for all of the staff members involved.
Our proposal also reflected our commitment to support students in achieving district and state learning requirements by using the Lake Washington School District Curriculum Framework for instructional planning. We determined that the broad theme, Interdependent Relationships - People and Environments, would serve as a basis for integrating learning around significant ideas and issues.
In October, 1997, we approached the LWSD Staff-initiated School Committee, headed by Assistant Superintendent Cindy Meilleur, with our proposal for “The Environmental and Adventure School, a “choice” school that would ultimately serve 140 6th through 9th grade students (at the time, Lake Washington School District was based on the junior high model with elementary schools housing grades K-6 and junior highs with grades 7-9). Our proposal included the following information:
Why the Environmental Theme?
We define environment as the various contexts in which we live, learn, and work as well as the natural environments in our world. We want students to understand how we influence and are influenced by our environments and to take responsibility for creating and sustaining healthy environments. Environment is a context in which we can integrate topics of social studies, science, and health. Students read, write, and apply scientific and mathematical procedures while conducting meaningful research and investigations.
A study that included Washington State schools found the benefits of using environment as an integrating context for learning included:
- better performance on standardized measures of academic achievement in reading, writing, math, science, and social studies;
- reduced discipline and classroom management problems;
- increased engagement and enthusiasm for learning; and,
- greater pride and ownership in accomplishments.
Evidence from the study strongly supports the conclusion that students’ self-discipline and behavior improve when they are involved in environment-based, hands-on, minds-on activities that engage and challenge them. Evidence also indicates that students’ language arts skills improve in three different ways:
- reading with improved understanding
- writing more effectively, and
- speaking with increased skill and confidence.
Lieberman, Gerald A., Ph.D. and Linda L. Hoody, M.A. “Closing the Achievement Gap: Using the Environment as an Integrating Context for Learning.” San Diego: State Education and Environment Roundtable. 1998.
“Level Three” Curriculum Focus
Our goal is to provide educational experiences that support our adolescent youth in becoming successful and contributing members of our society while engaging them in work and learning related to understanding, protecting and sustaining healthy natural and socio-cultural environments. Maintaining a core of 6th through 8th grade students that matches the LWSD Curriculum Framework Level Three allows us to rotate social studies and science curriculum over the three years with students in mixed grade classes.
Students apply skills and concepts from all subject areas while investigating local watershed and global environmental issues. They use communication, publishing, and presentation technologies to access, process, and share information. Instruction includes:
- Extensive research, hands-on learning, and environmental stewardship
- Investigation of interdependence with environments
- Projects to monitor, maintain, and restore habitats and bio-diversity
- Opportunities to teach and guide others
- Experiences designed to develop students’ confidence and skills to work effectively as leaders, mentors, and team members
Lake Washington School District accepted our initial proposal and granted us a year to do further research and to determine a plan for implementation. Our process included the following steps:
Creation of an Advisory Team
Our first step was to establish an Advisory Team to support us in the development and long-term fulfillment of an implementation plan. We developed criteria for Advisory Team Members to ensure representation in essential areas. We intentionally sought an Advisory Team that included parents as well as members who were active in the community, but not necessarily parents of students in the district. The criteria for selection of an Advisory Team included:
- Environmental education expertise and links to community organizations and resources
- Diversity in cultural background and expertise
- Expertise in organizational models and systems related to governance, communication, program development/implementation
- Knowledge of LWSD High School expectations and requirements
- Expertise in safety and risk management
- Representation for different regions of the district with middle school through high school and post-high school perspectives
- Knowledge of structure and function of parent organizations
- Ability to work with others on a team and communicate effectively.
In seeking members for the Advisory Team, we advertised in local newspapers and district publications. We hosted a meeting that was attended by 35 interested people from the community. Out of their applications, we selected 15 to work with the 4 teachers as a complete Advisory Team.
With input from our Advisory Team we developed a Governance Model and Communication Process through which the various stakeholders in the Environmental & Adventure School would have an avenue for communication, problem-solving, and decision-making. We anticipated that as the school evolved, this model would serve as a starting place for more specific communication and decision-making systems.
Beginning with the broad, encompassing theme Interdependent Relationships—People and Environments, we outlined a 3-year plan. We planned strategies for multi-age groupings of students to access reading materials and approach writing assignments at their individual developmental levels. In mathematics and Spanish, instruction would be skill-level specific. Diversification of assignments in the content areas of science, social studies, and the arts, would provide for the range of needs in multi-age groups of students.
With our curricular goals in mind, we began to pursue potential partnerships for the purpose of extending student-learning and linking students to community resources and mentors. The Advisory Team supported us greatly and our combined efforts led to significant grants and partnerships for our first year with students. We aligned these grants to our learning goals and communicated our goals with our community partners. These initial partnerships included:
- City of Redmond
- Classic Nursery (on Bear Creek)
- Denny Creek Alliance
- E.E.A.W. (Environmental Education Association of Washington)
- Gates Library Foundation
- G.L.O.B.E. (Geographic Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment)
- Heidi Bohan, Ethnobotanist
- Institute of Marine Science
- Jack Straw Productions
- King County Parks
- Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust
- Natural Connections, Jill Reifschneider
- O.S.P.I. (Environmental Education Dept., Tony Angell)
- Star Flower Foundation
- Washington State Parks
- W.F.P.A. (Washington Forests Protection Association, Lynne Ferguson)
At this point we submitted a progress report to the Staff-initiated School Committee. We revised and updated our proposal to incorporate our curriculum planning and community partnerships. After reviewing our final proposal, the committee accepted and approved our school based on the following components:
- A Staff-Initiated “Choice” Middle School/Junior High with 6th –9th grade students (Note: In the 2012-2013 school year, the entire Lake Washington School District converted to K-5, 6-8, 9-12 grade configuration, thereby eliminating 9th grade at EAS).
- Student-centered curriculum based on LWSD Curriculum Framework and Washington State EALRs (Essential Academic Learning Requirements).
- Multi-age approach to coursework in Level Three (grades 6-8), with a one-year Level Four program to be developed for 9th graders (Note: 9th grade eliminated in 2012-2013 school year as a result of the district grade reconfiguration.)
- Environment as an integrating context for learning
- Adventure and expeditionary learning, community partnerships, and stewardship
We were assigned a site on the Finn Hill Jr. High (now Finn Hill Middle School) campus . We determined a curriculum focus for the first year and began the process of blocking out units of instruction around major concepts and essential understandings. Linking community-building events as well as extensive field-study and stewardship projects to the year-long instructional plan was a critical choice that would enable us to make the best use of instructional time and allow us the flexibility to take students out of the classroom for extended learning opportunities. We formalized our partnerships and involved many of our partners in aspects of curriculum planning.
In the process of recruiting students, with the support of the Advisory Team, we hosted five informational meetings across the district. In those meetings we shared goals, curriculum outlines, partnerships, and specific information related to the site of the school. Enrollment reached our first year goal of 90 students by May, 1999. We held further information meetings for students and parents. Final preparations for the opening of the school were completed over the summer. EAS opened its doors to 90 6th and 7th grade students in September, 1999. By September, 2001, EAS reached its capacity as a school for 140 6th though 9th grade students. (Note: Effective in the 2012-2013 school year, Lake Washington School District converted to K-5, 6-8, 9-12 grade configuration, thereby eliminating 9th grade at EAS. EAS now serves 140 students in grades 6 through 8.)