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Sat, April 20

New expeditionary elementary school will open in August

Plans are moving forward for a new free, private expeditionary learning elementary school in Prescott.

Anita Fernández, a member of the education faculty at Prescott College, and David DenHartog, a school designer for Expeditionary Learning Schools Outward Bound, are cofounders of La Tierra Community School.

As they work to open La Tierra, Fernández and DenHartog are searching for a location for the school.

"We anticipate it will be in the Prescott area, close to the downtown area," Fernández said.

La Tierra will be an independent school that receives no state money. It is not a charter school. As a free, independent school, all of its money will come from fundraising.

DenHartog said it would cost about $120,000 to operate the school with two classrooms and two and half teachers, plus office staff.

Fernández and DenHartog said students may have to pay a "small, sliding scale tuition, but we want the school to be available to all students from all socio-economic backgrounds."

The co-founders visualize La Tierra as a school steeped in the culture of the Southwest, with culturally relevant teaching. All students, K-8, will learn Spanish as a second language.

Expeditionary schools teach curriculum through interesting and compelling topics that students study for a semester, or even a year.

"All disciplines and standards are taught through the topic," DenHartog said. "Another component is getting kids out of the classroom and getting real world experience. The expectation is that students would produce work that is high-quality and relevant to the topic."

Expeditionary learning also refers to the way teachers instruct students and how they make the topic engaging for students with all students participating in discussions and activities.

"An important component," Fernández said, "is developing a culture and community where students feel they belong in the school and all stakeholders feel they have a voice."

La Tierra plans to start with second- through fifth-grade students. The school is currently accepting intent to enroll forms. Once parents indicate they want to enroll their students, Fernández said they would be invited to an information/application evening.

"During the first year, we anticipate a diverse group of students and a diverse age range," she said.

La Tierra is affiliated with Prescott College and the national Expeditionary Learning Schools has endorsed the school.

Fernández anticipates that students would meet or exceed state standards.

"As a private school, we have more autonomy on how we meet those standards," Fernández said.

According to Fernández, private schools in Arizona are not subject to licensing requirements.

"There are certain forms we must submit to the county similar to those submitted by parents home-schooling their children. Private schools have the option to become accredited, but it is not a requirement," Fernández said.

Despite the lack of licensing requirements, the co-founders said teachers must have credentials, which include fingerprint and background checks. They also hope teachers would have some expeditionary learning experience.

La Tierra will start advertising for teachers in February. When teachers are hired, they will help develop the curriculum.

Additional information about La Tierra is available to www.latierracommunityschool.org.

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