Reopening: Moving Toward More Equitable Schools
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How Attending an EL Education School Made Me a Better Student and Citizen

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    Cooper Breed

This coming May, I will be graduating from the State University of New York at Geneseo with a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a minor in Dance. I have found that the further I take my education, the more I realize how extraordinary some of the most important years of my schooling were.

For three years beginning in the fall of 2009, I attended the Expeditionary Learning Middle School (ELMS), an EL Education network school, in Syracuse, NY.  Before attending this school I had never heard of EL Education, nor did I understand the impact their school model can have on students. Expeditionary Learning describes a method of teaching through student-led inquiry and includes a central expedition to guide students through their course work in an interdisciplinary way.

When I was in fifth grade, my teacher recommended that I look into the Expeditionary Learning Middle (ELMS) school because he knew I needed to be challenged in ways that were not strictly academic. Truthfully, when I first attended the school, I wasn’t totally sure what I was getting myself into. It took me a while to understand the structure of the school and how it was benefitting me then and how it might benefit me in the future. What I do know is that ELMS challenged me every day. The teachers challenged my traditional academic thinking while the students challenged me to become more independent. I was pushed to become a leader and an effective communicator. My classmates and I learned how to facilitate team building activities, discuss our academic progress with our parents, and how to not follow others blindly.

When I left ELMS and began my high school courses, I had a better understanding of how to learn. I knew how to ask questions, understood test-taking strategies, and most importantly knew how to work both in groups and independently. Furthermore, I knew the importance of how to use my learning in order to have a positive impact on my community and build a better world.  

As I began my college search and admission offices told me that their programs were interdisciplinary, I already understood what that environment felt like and what skills I needed to succeed. ELMS taught me arguably two of the most important life skills: cooperation and interdisciplinary thinking. 

Cooperation at ELMS, and in life, extends beyond the ability to work with the people next to you. It is the ability to step into leadership, recognize leadership, and speak for what you believe in. Cooperation builds leaders, and ELMS made me a leader. ELMS taught us not only how to find leaders within ourselves but to recognize them in other people. Furthermore, ELMS taught us to help others step into their own leadership. This didn’t mean that everyone in the group was trying to lead people in a different direction but that following a leader should not be passive, but active. As for interdisciplinary thinking, we understood that everything connects to the next. ELMS taught us to recognize this beyond the scope of the classroom and academic material. We were taught to understand how the world is interconnected and that our everyday choices have meaning; who we vote for, where we decide to do our grocery shopping, paper versus plastic, etc. 

It has been nearly 10 years since I attended ELMS. If you had asked me a year after I completed my time at ELMS how it changed me, I think I would have said it didn’t. But now that I have completed my high school career and am close to finishing my college degree, I can firmly say that it had one of the largest impacts on my life. I am fortunate to have attended ELMS when I did and even more fortunate to be able to share my knowledge and experiences with others. 


Cooper Breed is from Syracuse, NY and currently a senior at SUNY Geneseo, majoring in Biology and minoring in Dance. She conducts research on the implementation of cooperative learning at the collegiate level and also investigates student errors on final exams. After graduating she plans on taking a gap year before attending graduate school.