Podcast: Dan Condon on Eagle Rock School and PD Center

Something wasn’t working about high school. Either they were brilliant and bored or addicted and homeless. Eagle Rock School is a residential high school for young people not well-matched with their prior school.

Located on a square mile of mountain wilderness in Estes Park Colorado, Eagle Rock is a project of American Honda.

Students apply to the tuition-free school with the support of an adult sponsor. Students enter before the age of 18 and spend at least two years on campus.

Eagle Rock learners start with a three-week wilderness experience (watch the trailer of a documentary). For most students, the interpersonal dynamics are even more challenging than the outdoor experiences.

There are eight themes that serve as guideposts for the overall school design. Four related to individual integrity: intellectual discipline, physical fitness, spiritual development, and aesthetic expressions. Four relate to citizenship: service to others, cross-cultural understanding, democratic governance, and environmental stewardship.

There is no scope or sequence but there are five expectations that guide course and project design: developing an expanding knowledge base, communicating effectively, creating and making healthy life choices, participating as an engaged global citizen, and providing leadership for justice.

A series of interdisciplinary projects are organized into trimesters. All students engage in maker and art experiences. Students track their progress as an individual learning plan. They petition to graduate when they’re ready to demonstrate proficiency in each of the five expectations.

Eagle Rock students live in six student houses. They meet weekly with their advisor to discuss a mix of personal and academic topics. In a residential facility, there is a lot of shoulder-to-shoulder advising.

Students have a voice at Eagle Rock–both in their course of study and in how the place is run. They sit in on staff meetings and disciplinary actions, they help to hire staff and teach classes.

Dan Condon came to Eagle Rock as an intern in 1995. He returned in 2002 leading a fellowship program. Today, Condon leads the professional development center which provides pro bono experiences based on the Eagle Rock model. They serve as school change consultants to clients coast to coast using a mixture of improvement science and design thinking.

Key Takeaways:
[:56] How did a kid from Wisconsin arrive in Estes Park, Colorado?
[2:07] Dan speaks about his career journey after he first arrived at Eagle Rock School.
[3:03] Dan speaks about what the learner experience is like at Eagle Rock.
[6:02] Dan describes the academic program at Eagle Rock.
[6:36] Dan talks about the advisory program at Eagle Rock.
[7:33] Dan speaks about the unique experience new students do in the first trimester once they arrive at Eagle Rock.
[8:27] Dan’s experience working with kids who are not experienced campers and what he thinks they gain from such an experience.
[8:52] About the opportunities for expression in the arts at Eagle Rock and why it is so important.
[9:27] How and when do students graduate from Eagle Rock?
[10:15] How is the school program is organized? And how long do the students attend?
[10:21] Dan speaks about the various courses that are offered at the school and how the curriculum is organized.
[11:06] How much voice and choice do students get at Eagle Rock in terms of what they can study?
[12:11] Dan speaks about the professional learning practice that he runs.
[13:45] Do they work with any big, traditional public schools that are trying to embrace some of their practices?
[14:36] Is Dan encouraged by what he sees happening with American education? And is he seeing more educators and schools adopting some of the practices that they’ve honed here at Eagle Rock?
[16:01] How is Eagle Rock paving the way for learner-centered environments… and why you should come down to visit the school for yourself!
[17:47] Tom and Jessica wrap up this week’s episode!

Mentioned in This Episode:
Eagle Rock School
Dan Condon
Public Allies
All Who Dare (Documentary, 2018)
Big Picture Learning

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The Getting Smart Staff believes in learning out loud and always being an advocate for things that we are excited about. As a result, we write a lot. Do you have a story we should cover? Email [email protected]

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