Ned schools look into different approach to learning

Barbara Lawlor, Nederland.  Last month, Nederland Elementary School principal Jeff Miller and the Nederland Middle Senior High School principal hosted their second Coalition of Community builders meeting. About a dozen people attended the meeting which was held in the NES library. Principal Yantzer explained that Nederland school administrators, teachers, students and parents had collaborated in recent weeks to come up with a Draft Mission and a Draft Vision, guidelines for discussions of what constitutes a good education in Nederland. Ideas and principles have been whittled down to the essence of the these statements.

Draft Mission: “Nederland Schools educate, empower, and enable all students to become culturally, socially, and environmentally responsible, preparing them for careers, college, and beyond. Students become contributing global citizens who think critically and thrive in an ever- changing world.”

Draft Vision, the desired end state: “Nederland Schools are nurturing, safe, and engaging environments for all students. Students embrace diversity while treating others with respect and compassion. Students use grit and perseverance to solve problems creatively, improving the world around them. Students are inspired and curious lifelong learners.”

Innovational education money was part of the bond funding which has been put on hold as administrators and staff take a look at how that money should be spent.

“We want to be transparent in this process,” said principal Miller. “We want to envision a school model of continuity. We want to be deliberate in figuring out what Nederland stands for.”


All Nederland residents realize that our school community is different than those schools down below, in the cities, by mere virtue of the environment and the nature of the people who chose to live here. Our lifestyle involves dirt roads, nature’s presence in our backyard and often isolation due to weather and transportation issues. Our environment also has endless, unique educational possibilities that have not yet been explored.

For decades, people have said that Nederland would benefit from a different kind of education, one that would bring the school and the community together.

Kiffany Lychock and Mia Seymour, of the Boulder Valley School District Innovation program attended the meeting to help facilitate the introduction of Expeditionary Learning to the group,  saying that the EL school model would be a perfect fit for Nederland.

Principal Yantzer says that she has spoken to BVSD Superintendent Bruce Messinger who told her the program has his support as long the teachers, students and community agrees; and as long as it supports the school’s mission and vision.

Mia Seymour says the vetting process has begun with feedback note cards from teachers K-12, picking out the key words that were repeated. She said, “We want people to say ‘I want my kids to go to school in Nederland.’”

Principal Yantzer described the status of the switch to EL education as a “dating process,” a time for discovery, getting to know and understand the program, with leeway at the end of the first year to say, ‘no, I don’t want to marry it.’

EL Education includes 152 EL schools across 30 states with 4000 teachers and six million curriculum downloads. It is based on empowering teachers to unleash the potential of their students. It is built on 10 principles that reflect the values of Kurt Hahn, founder of Outward Bound.

Those principles and values include: The Primacy of Self-Discovery, learning through adventure and the unexpected; The Having of Wonderful Ideas, curiosity about the world and time to experiment; The Responsibility for Learning, a personal and social activity; Empathy and Caring, where ideas are respected; to learn from failure, to persevere when things are hard and turn disabilities into opportunities; Collaboration and Competition, not against each other but with personal bests; Diversity and Inclusion, investigate and value different histories and talents; The Natural World, learning to be stewards of the earth; Solitude and Reflection, time alone to explore thoughts; Service and Compassion, we are crew, not passengers.

The entire transition is a three-year process to become sustainable. Each EL school has a mentor school for guidance to reach that sustainability which Superintendent Messinger said is the key to its success. If Nederland decides to commit to EL Education, it will become the model for the BVSD.

One parent wanted to know how EL would relate to STEM learning, which NMSHS has been engaged with for the last few years. Principal Yantzer explained that it could be parallel learning if that’s what the community wants.

Principal Miller explained that EL was like STEM but included creativity, the experience of learning.
After the presentation, parent Dallas Masters asked what the group thought of the idea and called for a show of hands from those who liked the idea. It was a majority vote for the program.

“Let’s date for awhile and see if it matches our vision,” was one suggestion. “I don’t want to date a lot though.”


What changes would this mean for teachers? Principal Yantzer said that staff members were nervous, but they weren’t opposed to the concept. She said Nederland teachers have it in their hearts already.

The next step in this dating process will be to visit EL schools in the area; one high school and two K8 schools.

Barbara Lawlor

Barbara is a reporter for The Mountain-Ear.