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In the Heart of the City, the New Downtown Denver Expeditionary School

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When my husband and I attended an open house for the “new downtown elementary school” a little over a year ago, I turned to him and said, “Do not raise your hand to volunteer, we are over extended.”  Sure enough, I was the one raising my hand to help out with community outreach for the “proposed” school.

I am happy to report that a tremendous community effort will culminate in the Downtown Denver Expeditionary School (DDES) opening at 1860 Lincoln St in August 2013. DDES will open as a K-2 public charter school, adding a grade each year for full build-out at K-5.

I became invested in the school for several reasons: the community presence in the start-up phase of the school, the Expeditionary Learning approach, and the rich potential of bringing an urban elementary experience with an arts integration program close to the workplace of so many parents. Both my husband and I live and work downtown and have long been impressed with the educational opportunities the city afforded our children.  The opening of DDES allows these opportunities to continue as our oldest enters kindergarten next year in a place, and with a learning model, where the city is truly the campus.

Expeditionary Learning (EL) is an approach to education that puts the child at the center of his or her learning experience. You will often hear students at an EL school say, “We are crew not passengers.” As more and more education reform calls for students to take the helm in the classroom, EL promotes student-lead inquiry, in-depth analysis of case studies, purposeful movement, community-centered projects, and development of individual passions not only in the classroom but through learning expeditions in the community. EL is a proven model with over 165 schools nationwide with a track record for academic rigor and purposeful citizenship. Learning targets are aligned with the Colorado Core Standards and students participate in standardized testing, yet, EL also uses portfolios of student work as part of the assessment and organizes mixed age classrooms to facilitate group work while promoting children learning at his or her level.

We have two EL schools in Denver that have tremendous programs and equally tremendous waitlists, Rocky Mountain School of Expeditionary Learning and Odyssey School.  DDES brings this highly sought after model to an urban environment with rich cultural, professional, and community resources. Joining the hands-on nature of EL, DDES will have an arts integration program that opens up even more opportunities for understanding cultural constructs and meaning through proximity to the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Denver Art Museum, the Denver Center for Performing Arts, gallery installations on Santa Fe, architectural explorations of skyscrapers and historic buildings, and urban planning projects like the redevelopment of Union Station.

DDES not only expands what a classroom can look like, it broadens the idea of the work/school neighborhood. DDES will be open from 7-6 pm to accommodate the workday, with extension programs that further interact with our downtown Denver resources. Allowing close proximity to our children during the day holds countless possibilities. I may be able to volunteer for school trips more often, catch an afternoon assembly, or drop in at lunchtime, options that are just not available for many parents who work far away from where their children attend school.  I also love the idea of parents being able to “debrief” their day together on their walk, car, bus, or light rail trip home each evening.

When I think of what I want for my little man who is starting out in the big world of kindergarten next year I know I have priorities. I want him to play. I want him to explore. I want him to move. I want him to begin to test himself rather than the focus being on testing him. I want him to understand he plays a role in a larger community and that community has a role in his life. I want him to teach just as much as I want him to be taught. And I want him to love what he is learning while he learns what he loves.

As you consider your portfolio of elementary school options next year feel free to contact me for more information about DDES at And please attend our open house at the Children’s Museum of Denver on January 21 from 5:30-7pm. First round enrollment applications for DPS are due on January 31st by 4 p.m.

Letia Frandina is a mother of 2 young boys and resides in Downtown Denver with her husband. She earned her Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina in communication studies. When she is not working as the project coordinator for the Downtown Denver Expeditionary School or roaming the streets of Denver with her sons, she also teaches courses in media culture, public speaking, and urban rhetoric.



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