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Mon, Nov. 18

Northpoint ready to launch

PRESCOTT ­ The leader of Prescott Unified School District's newest expedition is excited to be at the helm.

Geneva Saint-Amour, the director of the district's new Northpoint Expeditionary Learning Academy, said during an interview Friday that in anticipation of the high school's first year of operation ­ beginning Aug. 7 ­ she is "most excited about watching this unfold into what could be a nationally recognized high school."

In June 2005, PUSD received a $600,000 grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to open an Expeditionary Learning high school.

Expeditionary Learning, an educational philosophy that combines "rigorous academic content and real world projects ­ learning expeditions ­ with active teaching and community service" (www.elob.org) is for self-directed learners who will take responsibility for their own education, Saint-Amour said.

The Gates Foundation in 2005 gave out 12 grants in the U.S. for EL high schools because it is "committed to raising the (national) high school graduation rate and helping all students Š graduate as strong citizens ready for college or work."

"In an attempt to do that," Saint-Amour said, "they recognized that funding is necessary."

EL schools provide what she called "compelling information" for students.

"Any time you can get students interested and help them see ties to their community and their future, they're more engaged and involved," she said.

This year, Northpoint will center on five Character Traits, including compassion, perseverance, integrity, stewardship and courage.

By the end of their four years at Northpoint, 100 percent of students will apply and get into a higher education institution, she said.

Charles Mentken, who taught most recently at Prescott High School and before that at Kestrel High School (three years at each), said he's "ecstatic" about teaching Humanities at Northpoint this year.

The concept of Expeditionary Learning matches his educational philosophy, Mentken said, and he believes students who receive this type of education "walk away with critical skills they'll be able to use anywhere in life."

Rather than focusing on breadth of information, EL focuses on depth, he said.

Each unit, or expedition, prepares students "to be able to articulate the various perspectives of (an) issue," Mentken said.

The point, he said, is to help students form their own informed opinions so they can be effective citizens of their community, state and nation.

Because EL focuses on community involvement, school officials are looking for people to participate in a variety of ways, Saint-Amour said.

People can make tax credit donations to the school in general or to help students foot the cost of technology-related fees.

Also, businesses or corporations can team up with the school to provide community service projects or career exploration opportunities for students.

Individuals can act as academic mentors, helping students with school projects as well as sharing hobbies.

Saint-Amour emphasized the school's innovative educational approach and pointed out that administrators currently are working to ensure that each of the 100 freshman entering Northpoint this year will have a 2006 Mac Book laptop computer.

So far, teachers who will staff Northpoint have had 30 days of professional development training during the summer, Saint-Amour said.

"Students in high school are on the verge of their own expeditions into life," she said. "They're on their own journey. Giving them these sorts of lessons, topics and information now will help them make better decisions as they launch out into higher education."

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