On Wednesday, January 11, the Expeditionary Learning (ExL) program at Lawrence Jones Middle School (LJMS) held an information meeting for potential incoming middle school parents and students. Held in the LJMS Theater, it was a show and tell, question and answer session. It lasted almost 90 minutes.
The theater was near its capacity of 249, with well over two hundred parents and children in attendance. Speakers included an opening welcome from the school’s principal, presentations by each of the ExLs teachers, short explanatory speeches by numerous students, a discussion about parental involvement from the Parent’s Association (exlpa.org), and testimonials from parents who have or had children in the program.
Founded in 1995, this is a program within the Cotati Rohnert Park Unified School District (CRPUSD) for 6th, 7th, and 8th graders at LJMS. According to the LJMS website, “ExL is designed to provide a powerful learning environment through the use of integrated thematic study units, reinforced by real-life excursions and hands-on projects.” For sixth graders, these excursions or expeditions include day and overnight trips to local attractions such as the Buck Institute, Safari West Wildlife Preserve, San Francisco Zoo, or Monterey Bay Aquarium. For seventh and eighth graders, multi-day expeditions could include the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Yosemite, Point Reyes National Seashore or Salt Point State Park and Sugarloaf Ridge. Many are camping and hiking related activities.
The themes of this program are: Explore, Learn, Connect, and Act. Sixth grade teacher Michelle Yanglin said her hope for the information night was to have “the bonds that are built, the growing pains of middle school, the growth, peer support, and becoming a family” would shine through. She further explained this wasn’t just for the kids, but also for the parents and the parent group. ExL is an application program and applications for the 2023-2024 school year will be accepted starting February 1. The deadline for turning them in is February 10. Applications can be found at: Apply - Lawrence E. Jones Middle School (crpusd.org).
CRPUSD pays for teacher salaries, health benefits, classroom equipment and furnishings. They also pay for school textbooks and materials. However, these expedition costs are funded through the parents’ association via family payments which was announced as $125 per month for the 2023-24 school year. These payments are supplemented by fundraising efforts. Parents are also asked to assist as drivers, chaperones, or other volunteer efforts as they are able. There are some scholarship funds available to ensure financial ability isn’t a barrier to any child’s participation in the program.
Explore became a core tenet of the program because of the belief that all students can benefit from hands on, experiential learning outside the classroom. It helps students apply their learning in more concrete ways, making the experience more meaningful and the learning deeper and longer lasting. One of the student speakers asked the audience “How many of you guys are bored sitting in classes?” Almost every kid raised their hands!
Another core tenet was Connect. The program uses group projects that are designed to “help students learn to work together.” On expeditions, during camping or car groups, while hiking or working together, or through local service projects, the students get a chance to make positive contributions and gain experience often impossible to achieve in a classroom setting. Another student speaker stressed “ExL is like a big family.” Friendships between students, and between parents, often become lifelong relationships.
For more information on the program, Expeditionary Learning @ Lawrence Jones Middle School - YouTube provides an overview. You can visit the parent’s association website at: Expeditionary Learning Parent Association (exlpa.org). You may also connect on Facebook at: Expeditionary Learning at LJMS | Facebook or on Instagram at: Expeditionary Learning (@expeditionary_learning) • Instagram photos and videos.
You’ll find many testimonials on these pages about the program. Here is one. “ExL is an amazing program. The expeditions have exposed me to many places and experiences. The projects and academic work are interesting and can feel challenging sometimes, especially when I am playing many sports, but I find a way to make it work because I love both the program and the sports I play. I have learned through the program how to balance my time, and I know that it will make my life easier in high school or college using the skills I am learning in ExL.”
ExL may not be the right program for every child, but if you think it’s right for your child, you should check it out and get your application ready to submit.