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Huntington’s incubator school celebrates new digs

Photo for The Herald-Dispatch by Toril Lavender Students and adults participate in a ribbon cutting at Explorer Academy Thursday, Sept. 15, 2016.
Photo for The Herald-Dispatch by Toril Lavender
Students and adults participate in a ribbon cutting at Explorer Academy Thursday, Sept. 15, 2016.

HUNTINGTON – For fifth-graders at Explorer Academy, one of their favorite things about their new school is its size.

“We have so much more space now than we did before,” Makenzie Sawyers said.

Sawyers and several other fifth-grade student ambassadors at Explorer Academy had the chance to show off their big school by providing tours to members of the Cabell County Board of Education and the community following a ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday morning.

 Located at 2901 Saltwell Road in Huntington, the school is the first in West Virginia to implement the Expeditionary Learning Education method of teaching, also known as EL Education.

Explorer Academy opened at the start of the 2015-16 school year at the former Geneva Kent facility at 68 Holley Ave., Huntington, which was equipped with modular classrooms to accommodate the extra students.

Five weeks ago, students, teachers and staff were welcomed into Explorer Academy’s new home at the site of the former Beverly Hills facility.

“The new facility is exactly what we needed to do the programs that we do here,” Explorer Academy Principal Ryan McKenzie said.

Converting the Beverly Hills facility into Explorer Academy took over two years and about $15.8 million.

Under the EL Education model, students learn by conducting expeditions rather than by sitting in a classroom being taught one subject at a time. The expeditions encompass all the necessary curriculum work – inside and outside the classroom – to answer a question or address a problem unique to the school’s community.

Brooke Walker, a fifth-grader at the school, said her class is working on an expedition that involves learning about solar cookers.

“It’s fun because we’re not just learning about them. We’re also building our own solar cookers and going out on field work,” she said.

Fellow student Christian Garnes said field work was his favorite part of Explorer Academy. He also made it a point to mention that field work is not like a field trip.

“Field work is different than a field trip because when we go on field work, we take note catchers and take notes about what we see, what we do and what we learn,” Garnes said.

As part of their solar expedition, fifth-grade students recently visited the Hurricane Wastewater Treatment Plant, which uses a solar panel system.

 McKenzie emphasized that a major part of EL Education was having the students take ownership of their schooling, which was evident by how excited the students were to talk to those in attendance about what they were doing and learning.

“While the facility is great … (EL Education) is a mindset that says kids can be active participants in their own learning and that learning should be relevant to the real world,” he said.

Explorer Academy also serves as an incubator school to allow for other teachers and administrators from throughout the state to learn more about the method through a partnership with the June Harless Center for Rural Educational Research at Marshall University.

During the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Stan Maynard, the director of the June Harless Center, said the school was like the Cleveland Clinic of education.

“Not every hospital needs to be the Cleveland Clinic, but they do need a Cleveland Clinic to be able to learn the latest techniques and the latest strategies to take back to their hospitals and their patients,” Maynard said.

Maynard said he hoped other schools in the area and around the state would view the school as yet another learning tool to be used for the benefit of the students.

McKenzie said his school is always open to visitors, whether they be community members or educators, who would like to learn more about the school and their teaching philosophies.

To see more from The Herald-Dispatch, click here. 

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