I recently had the opportunity to visit Teton Science Schools (TSS), our partner in Getting Smart’s “Power of Place” campaign.
The campaign aims to build awareness of Place-Based Education–a learner-centered approach that prioritizes student engagement with the world around them.
We’re looking forward to sharing insights from the students, teachers, staff and leaders I connected with at the TSS campuses I visited in Wyoming and Idaho in an upcoming podcast. Until then, I couldn’t help but to share this PhotoBlog. I think the images do a good job of showing how schools can engage deeply with their local geography, culture and community in a way that creates powerful academic, cultural and social-emotional learning experiences.
Teton Science Schools, Jackson Campus
Situated on more than 900 acres just outside of Jackson, Wyoming, the TSS Jackson Campus is home to the Pre-12 Journeys School, Dining Lodge, Teacher Learning Center, Residential Lodges & Facilities, Education Center, Playfield, Ropes Course, Hiking Trails, Welcome Center and Equipment Outfitters.
The Outfitting Building contains all the necessary supplies for exploring in any season – like camping supplies, snowshoes, cross country skis, daypacks, waders, coolers, paddles and boots. Younger students each have their own all-weather suits for staying comfortable out in the elements.
Classroom spaces are well-equipped with technology and reflect a range of traditional classroom configurations. Yet, one noticeable difference from most classrooms I’ve visited is the presence of student work and student projects. Displays are set up in such a way that visitors can learn from posters and signs that explain the story behind the art piece, example of student work or community space.
The walls are also covered with images that reflect the school’s core values. Pictured below you’ll see an image that shows “high-tech” can accompany “high-touch,” a student-designed school library and young learners inside their classroom working in morning circle with their teacher. There’s also a student poster that captures the range of place-based learning at TSS from a student who spent two months living abroad during high school, volunteered at a Raptor Center, took the full courseload of IB classes and penned an extended essay that applied historical frameworks to questions of peace and terrorism.
Teton Valley Community School
Teton Valley Community School (TVCS) is a Pre-K-6th-grade project-based independent school in the Teton Science Schools network on a 10-acre campus in Victor, Idaho, that will soon expand up to eighth grade.
The school is surrounded by beautiful farm land and sweeping landscapes. Farmhouses and a yurt have been converted into student classrooms, and the outdoor learning spaces are just as special as those created for learning indoors. This school stands out as one of the most truly learner-centered approaches I’ve seen–with student curiosity and community needs that drive rigorous, project-based learning from its inception through execution and reflection.
Pictured below: Students during multi-age recess use “loose parts” during regular outdoor play to construct and engage with their own imaginative worlds. (Feature image above shows three of the upper elementary students in front of “Sage City” – the village they constructed that blurs work/play lines by simultaneously serving as a place for imaginative play as well as the basis of a long-term project-based lesson that covered academic standards across multiple subject areas.)
Students at all TSS schools have “Hands to Work” school community responsibilities. At Teton Valley Community School, students can be found caring for the chickens, goats and alpacas as well as tending to the garden and greenhouse.
Thoughtfully-adapted indoor spaces are set-up to enable student movement, flexible use of spaces and project-based learning. Classroom displays highlight student work and community values. Visitors can quickly get a sense of the learner-centered approach by observing these student artifacts, as well as teacher-created materials such as the “daily documentation” sent to parents pictured below that provides an overview of the day’s activities and student quotes about the experience.
Teton Science Schools, Kelly Campus
The Kelly Campus of Teton Science Schools is nestled inside Grand Teton National Park in the shadow of the Gros Ventre and Teton Mountain ranges. This original campus of Teton Science Schools has a main lodge, dining hall (with one of the most stunning cafeteria views I’ve ever seen), the Murie Museum (with 1000s of bird and mammal specimens) and bunkhouse dorms that house groups from student visitors to grad students and visiting teachers/leaders.
Pictured below are students and teachers making use of these beautiful facilities in the myriad ways it’s possible to do so–from Journeys Schools students who were visiting as a part of their fall overnight program to study water quality, to students from the local public schools who were wrapping up a couple days on campus by presenting their findings about the invasion of non-native species in local streams and ponds, to grad students working toward education degrees and so much more.
I came away from my few days of place-based professional learning at Teton Science Schools with a full heart and inspired mind. This part of our beautiful country is truly breathtaking, and it’s easy to see how such a stunning corner of the world is ripe for place-based education.
But the real lesson from TSS goes beyond the beauty of the blue skies, the bison that you might see driving to school one morning or the luck of catching the season’s first snow on the Tetons. The real lesson is that it doesn’t take a national park or a mountain range to get kids out into the world for authentic and powerful learning experiences.
All it really takes is a commitment to making that happen – regardless of the corner of the world where you sit.
Thanks to Nate McClennen, VP for Education and Innovation at Teton Science Schools, as well as the dozens of students, teachers and staff that made my visit so special.
This blog is part of our “Place-Based Education” blog series. To learn more and contribute a guest post for the series, check out the PBE campaign page. Join in the conversation on social media using #PlaceBasedEd. For more on Place-Based Education, see:
- Genius Loci: Place-Based Education & Why It Matters
- Place-Based Education: Communities as Learning Environments
- Cultivating Cross-Cultural Competence in Costa Rica
- Parenting, Learning and The Power of Place
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