Fox Creek Elementary sets sail on every school day under the slogan, “We are crew, not passengers.” Principal Brian Rodda is captain of the academic ship.
“`Crew, not passengers' means we need each other to get to our destination, a crew of …
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Fox Creek Elementary sets sail on every school day under the slogan, “We are crew, not passengers.” Principal Brian Rodda is captain of the academic ship.“`Crew, not passengers' means we need each other to get to our destination, a crew of people working toward the same goal,” he said. “The concept really resonates with me as an educator.”The Highlands Ranch school's slogan is a quote from Kurt Hahn, founder of Outward Bound. Fox Creek's expeditionary learning program is an extension of Outward Bound, and links subjects into detailed, often community-focused projects or learning expeditions. Fox Creek is among 161 schools nationwide following the program.It adopted the model in 2012, with a 100 percent vote of support from the staff.“We haven't looked back,” Rodda said. “It's been a ton of hard work, taking everything we know about instruction and turning it sideways.”The change has infused excitement into the school and Rodda, who's in his 11th year as principal. The average national principal tenure is three to four years.The Douglas County School District recognized Rodda for his leadership, awarding him Administrator of the Year during the 2015 Apple Awards.Rodda was initially skeptical about expeditionary learning, first assuming it had to be tied to outdoor education. As a former rafting and rock climbing guide, he was intrigued by the idea but thought it wasn't the right fit for a suburban elementary school. He changed his mind after learning more and meeting students engaged in the program.He was struck by “the level of engagement, the responsibility for their own learning, how it empowers kids to be an active part of their learning."“I love the concept of adventure and going on an expedition, whether I'm putting on a backpack or taking an expedition into unknown territories of learning,” Rodda said. “I was convinced this was good for all kids.”To reinforce the philosophical change, the school raised $53,000 to buy new furniture aimed at opening space and encouraging movement. Some students stand during class. Others rock on chairs designed to tilt and flex. Still others sit two to a chair to read. In some classrooms, fluorescent lights are turned off and rooms are lit by lamps. In another, instrumental music floats softly in the background.“It has been a huge energizer,” Rodda said. “I'm thrilled with what we're doing, the purposefulness kids are feeling. It's education with me instead of to me. They are an integral part of it.”In mid-March, students for the first time led parent/teacher conferences.“It was nerve-wracking for me at first,” said Savannah Sullivan. “But I felt like it was more interesting than sitting and listening to my teacher. My parents were impressed.”So were Megan Rodda's parents. Rodda's daughter is a student at Fox Creek.Rodda and his wife Deb, married for 22 years, are deeply tied to the Douglas County School District. Rodda has been a district employee since 1993, starting as a Sand Creek Elementary teacher. He was assistant principal at Wildcat Mountain Elementary before coming to Fox Creek.Even before the shift to expeditionary learning, Rodda's constant goal has been to fill the building with triggers for academic inspiration. That's included remodeling to add color to floors and walls, letting students design and paint tiled columns and decorating hallways with photos and stories of student achievements.“It's been a labor of love for us to bring in color, vibrancy and warmth,” he said. “A good school should be a joyful place. You should also see some challenge, but you should see joy.”
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