D. Polaris Expeditionary K-12 School

An essential and important part of this class and the art education program at Colorado State University is teaching at Polaris Expeditionary School. (Colorado Teacher Quality Standards I; II; III; IV; V; VI) 


Welcome to Polaris Expeditionary Learning School

Polaris is a K-12 school in the Poudre School District that partners with the national education reform model of Expeditionary Learning (EL). Polaris utilizes the  10 Design Principles and 5 Core Practice Benchmarks of Expeditionary Learning to achieve our mission of “developing 21st century learners through rigorous academic course work, high quality adventure experiences, character development, and leadership opportunities.” Together—as parents, students, teachers, and staff—we strive to create the ideal learning environment for adolescents. Our K-12 environment supports child and adolescent development, experiential curriculum, life skills, and connections between kids and their community.


Learning culture
Polaris does not serve a specific neighborhood, it is a 100% school of choice  program within Poudre School District.  Our classes are capped at 18 at the elementary level and hover between 22 – 29 students at the secondary level. The fundamental idea behind Expeditionary Learning is that students learn more by experiencing the world around them. Expeditionary Learning harnesses the students’ natural passion to learn and helps children develop the curiosity, knowledge, skills, and personal qualities they need for successful adulthood. EL describes three “buckets of success” they strive for in their schools and their students, they are as follows:

  • Success on traditional measures
  • Enhancing character, engagement, & motivation
  • Producing quality products and performances that represent “real work”

Expeditionary Learning partners with schools, districts, charter management organizations, and states to build teacher capacity in service of a more ambitious vision of student achievement: one that joins academic challenge and scholarship to critical skills like perseverance, critical thinking, and an ethic of contribution to prepare students for success in college, career and citizenship.

EL listens carefully to the needs of districts and schools and align our offerings to meet those needs. The EL offerings give teachers and leaders practical tools and strategies that they can put to use in their classrooms right away:

  • Structures and resources that meet standards and respect teacher creativity and judgment, catalyzing improvement in new and veteran teachers
  • Classroom strategies organized around authentic, meaningful work in which students do original research and create high-quality products for audiences beyond the classroom
  • Instructional and assessment practices that build students’ ownership of their learning
  • Learning strategies that spark student motivation and engagement through high-level tasks and active roles in the classroom
  • Data-driven practices that empower school leaders, teachers, and students to improve student achievement
  • Structures to develop a culture of learning that builds students’ persistence, compassion and independence


Polaris goals 
• Achieve high academic standards as measured by standardized assessments;
• Enhance students’ character development and social responsibility;
• Engage families in the educational process;
• Connect schools and communities; and
• Challenge and support students’ inherent inquisitiveness.




Polaris blog sites for 2017 semester include:

K: Julie’s Class

1: Denise’s Class

2-3: Brittany’s and Tamara’s Classes

4-5: Alicia’s and Tom’s Classes


Polaris blog sites for 2016 semester include:

K: Denise’s Class – http://kindertimetravel.weebly.com/

1: Julie’s Class – https://artspeaksletslisten.wordpress.com/

2-3: Brittany’s Class – http://joelandlaurenpolaris.weebly.com/

2-3: Tamara’s Class – http://2ndand3rdpolarisart2016.weebly.com/

4-5: Alicia’s Class – http://expeditionaryartpolaris.weebly.com

4-5: Tom’s Class – http://polarisart2016.weebly.com


Polaris blog sites for 2015 semester include:

K: Julie’s Class – http://kreativekindergarten2015.weebly.com

1: Denise’s Class – http://kand1Culture.weebly.com

2-3: Brittany’s Class – http://polarisarted.weebly.com

2-3: Tamara’s Class – http://2and3ExploreWithMe.weebly.com

4-5: Alicia’s Class – http://Meghanandrachelexpeditionaryartunit.wordpress.com

4-5: Tom’s Class – http://creativethinkinglab.weebly.com


Polaris blog sites for 2014 semester include:

“Teaching in Review” Fall 2014: Lab School Fall 2014 (PowerPoint)

K-1: Julie’s Class – http://k1Julie2k14.wordpress.com

K-1: Denise’s Class – http://knjteachart.weebly.com

2-3: Brittany’s Class – http://superartroom23.weebly.com

2-3: Tamara’s Class – http://twothreeartwithme.wordpress.com

4-5: Alicia’s Class – http://artedufall.weebly.com

4-5: Tom’s Class – http://selfdiscoveryart.wordpress.com


Polaris blog sites for 2013 semester include:

K-1: Julie’s Class – http://k1discoversarted.wordpress.com/

K-1: Denise’s Class – http://kelseyabbyart.wordpress.com

2-3: Brittany’s Class – http://csuteachesart.wordpress.com

2-3: Tamara’s Class – http://chart23.wordpress.com/

4-5: Alicia’s Class – http://steampunked.weebly.com/day-5.html

4-5: Tom’s Class – http://steampunked.weebly.com/


Polaris blog sites for 2012 semester include:

Julie’s Class: http://k1creativeconnections.wordpress.com/

Denise’s Class: http://kindergartenart326.wordpress.com/

Brittany’s Class: http://2nd3rdart.wordpress.com/

Tamara’s Class: http://polarisart2and3.wordpress.com/

Tom’s Class: http://fourfiveartalive.wordpress.com/

Alicia’s Class: http://bbjart.wordpress.com/


Polaris blog sites for 2011 semester include:

Julie’s Class: http://creativekindergarten.wordpress.com/

Denise’s Class: http://flywilzeikuseduc466art326.wordpress.com/

Brittany’s Class: http://art326mollyandkara.wordpress.com/

Tamara’s Class: http://tamarascrew.wordpress.com/

Karen’s Class: http://45imaginaryanimals.wordpress.com/

Tom’s Class: http://artofstories.wordpress.com/2011/09/08/once-upon-a-time/


Polaris blog sites for 2010 semester include:

Julie’s Class: http://jayeandjenna.wordpress.com/

Brittany’s Class: http://thovak.wordpress.com/nice-to-meet-you/

Susan’s Class: http://coryannalabschool.wordpress.com

Karen’s Class: http://pedagogicalspace.wordpress.com/

Tamara’s Class: http://kkmtamara.wordpress.com/

Tom’s Class:  http://csuarteducation.wordpress.com/

Jennifer’s Class:  http://labschool56starlabranson.wordpress.com/



Polaris FAQs

Polaris is a 100% school of choice option within Poudre School District. To enroll families must register through the School of Choice application process. Polaris then abides by the PSD School Choice Application Priority policies to make enrollment decisions.

What is the adventure program?
The adventure program starts in 4th grade at Polaris with our annual Eco Week trip, secondary students from Polaris can continue to take extended trips to different specified areas throughout their time at Polaris during Intensive Weeks. During these trips students learn more about themselves, others and their surroundings. The main focus of adventure is to practice leadership skills and the EL Design Principles. Trips can either be physically demanding in nature (Grand Canyon Backpacking, Rafting the Gunnison River, Backpacking in Canyonlands, UT) or academically enriching (Wolf Reintroduction in Yellowstone, Heifer International Global Village in Arkansas, Geology in Black Hills, SD, Coral Restoration in Florida, or Deforestation in Peru), both types of trips aim to help students overcome their fears and discover they can do more than they originally thought.

What does a typical day at school look like?
Students take all the PSD required classes just like any other PSD student. But our students meet the state standards through Expeditions. Expeditions are in depth studies of compelling topics over an extended period of time. Expeditions typically include Fieldwork experiences, local expert panelists, and research of primary source documents. At the middle and high school level, expeditions are taught within a block schedule where students earn a year’s worth of credit in a semester.  In grades K-12 there is plenty of activity within any given classroom at any given time. Students collaborate with one another and frequently create products that are authentic in nature.

Is there a lunch program?
Yes, we serve lunch like every other school with student ID and accounts. Our lunch is 35 minutes long where High School and Middle School are served at different times.  At the elementary level, lunch is 20 minutes long followed by a 20 minute recess. We serve hot lunches with a couple different selection options. Click here for menu and prices.

What types of electives are available at Polaris?
At the elementary level, students attend electives once each day of the week and rotate between P.E., music, technology, library, and art.

Due to our small staff size at the secondary level there are fewer elective options at Polaris when compared to other comprehensive secondary schools, but we make up for that in other ways. Intensives are one week electives taught by volunteers, teachers or professionals in the field. During intensive weeks we offer many different classes from cooking to music to backpacking in the Grand Canyon. Almost anything you want to do can be done during intensive week. Some students have even co-facilitated an Intensive with a teacher based on the student’s passion(s).

Some electives that are available throughout the year may include but not be limited to: art, Spanish, French, health, P.E and the senior project class. We always have P.E, art, Spanish, and French but our electives can change on a yearly basis as well. We like to give the student responsibility for their own learning and so many options for learning are available and ever changing.

What is fieldwork?
Fieldwork is a classroom beyond school. It provides a living context for shared academic experiences and individual connections to the learning expedition. Fieldwork can involve talking to local experts in the field about interesting topics or going to a national park to clean it up. The majority of fieldwork experiences improve students as individuals and help them understand how they can contribute to their local and global community.

Students at the elementary level can participate in up to 20 Fieldwork experiences per year.  At the secondary level students may go on 3 – 6 Fieldwork days per year.

How are the Student- Teacher relationships?
Students and teachers are partners in learning. In our current age of information we understand that students can get answers to just about any question they may have with the help of technology. The teachers at Polaris strive to help kids find credible sources of information, make sense of the information available, and understand how it may impact them as individuals as well as the global community. The primary task of an EL teacher is to help students overcome their fears and discover that they can do more than they think they can.

What is the community like?
Our community is comprised of students from all over the Fort Collins area and beyond.
Because students come from every corner of PSD’s attendance area, as well as Greeley, Windsor, Loveland, Ault, and Eaton, we all seem to embrace our unique perspectives and backgrounds.  Although we don’t care for “blanket statements” at Polaris it could be said that there is a thread of creativity between and among our student population.

How are families involved within the school?
Family involvement is one of the key foundations of Polaris in two ways. First, families are essential partners in the education and success of their student. Second, families are needed to help Polaris fulfill its mission by supporting the functions and development of the school. This involvement is what makes Polaris a learning community and not just a school.  Parents log a lot of time as volunteers on Adventure Trips, Fieldwork Days, and in-school support.  Be sure to register here if you plan on volunteering at any point throughout the school year.

How does Polaris compete with other schools academically?                                          Polaris has done very well on traditional measures with consistent growth over time.  In 2010 the state of Colorado began using data from traditional measures to create school and district School Performance Framework (SPF) reports.  These reports serve as a type of “report card” for each school and district as they consider achievement, growth and post-secondary readiness. With these data points they provide each school a score that ranges from 0 – 100.

Feel free to check out Polaris’ results on the Colorado Department of Education’s website. Our 84.9 score from 2014 is the highest score any PSD secondary school has ever achieved within this SPF format.



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