We are crew, not passengers, strengthened by acts of consequential service to others.” Kurt Hahn, founder of Outward Bound. For staff and students, every morning starts with Crew, a time to check in, share, and support each other. Before we can learn, we need to ensure that we are ready to learn and are often distracted by circumstances and experiences. Through recognizing where we are each day and what we bring with us, we can overcome barriers to learning and cultivate a culture where we are all ready to participate and share in learning. Crew time discussions may include topics relating to our core values, plans for school and community service projects, life-long practices for self-improvement, conflict resolution, and issues around equity.


GCOA is launching a full model Expeditionary Learning (EL Education) school, a nationwide program that supports over 150 schools. On average for the school year, students will spend about 40% of their time outside, with a focus on immersive learning. On-site outdoor classroom activities and fieldwork are prioritized for students to connect with place and experience academic content in the world outside. Fieldwork may include both indoor and outdoor elements such as a Visitor’s Center followed by an excursion.


We believe that ALL students can learn with effective research-driven instruction and a whole child approach to learning. Our core curriculum integrates Math, Science, Social Studies, English Language Arts (ELA), Outdoor Education, and Art into 6 6-week thematic units called “expeditions.” Instead of students having different teachers for different subjects, students have one core teacher that weaves subjects together into cross-curriculum activities and learning experiences. As part of our loop group combined classes, core teachers may co-teach or have their assistant pull small groups for focused instruction and group work. Our expeditions are custom tailored to provide opportunities for place-based learning, collaboration with the community, and bringing families and community members as experts into the classroom. Our approach to reading and writing is supported by EL Education’s ELA Curriculum. Our approach to Math is supported by the Waldorf Education curriculum based on the work of Rudolf Steiner and Discover Wild Learning’s WildMath Curriculum.


We emphasize multi-year relationships with students and multi-grade level grouping to accommodate children’s different l levels of maturity and differing capabilities. Looping students by 1-2, 3-4, 5-6, and 7-8 allows for flexibility in grouping that doesn’t label a student as behind or ahead. We teach to each child rather than to the grade level. The younger children have the experience of stepping into a leadership role when the older group moves on and a younger group moves in. When students stay with the same teacher for two or more years, the teacher can use the knowledge that they have gained about a child during the first year to plan for learning experiences in year(s) beyond.


Every afternoon, students deepen the learning in their expedition with “Lab Time.” Lab Time is inspired by EL Education’s K-2 Lab Experiences where students guide their own learning through one or more lab experiences. For most expeditions, students cycle through one or more labs: Create, Engineer, Imagine, Research and/or Explore for one hour every afternoon. In these labs students might create artwork, play-act, sculpt, design an exhibit, conduct independent research, write stories, illustrate texts, or use engineering practices to design solutions to identified problems.


Teachers are not the sole educators of children. We are ALL part of the learning community: teachers, administrators, families, siblings, and community members. We engage the community and families to create a learning community that supports all students. In addition to field experiences during the school day, GCOA will host what we call “field hours,” open to all members of the family and community. Field Hours are times to learn together and engage as a whole community in the rich resources of the Four Corners Region and Colorado Plateau. Families are invited to participate in field hours, join the classroom as an expert and guest speaker, chaperone field experiences during school hours, and collaborate with us to organize engaging events. Community partners are leveraged to help facilitate field hours and experiences, visiting as experts and guest speakers, and to help students design and conduct community outreach projects.


Gone are the days of generic textbooks and worksheets! Inspired by the Waldorf approach to Education, GCOA students create their own books for each expedition called Main Lesson Books. These beautiful books are the best artifact to track student learning and are celebrated at the end of each expedition’s Exhibition of Learning.


Community members are utilized to support our community-based specials program to provide rich academic, cultural, and physical activities beyond the scope of our core curriculum such as: Native American Arts and Crafts, Navajo Language, Photography, Painting, Yoga, Physical Fitness, STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math), Videography, Music, and more!


  • Student work and material is created and held in Main Lesson Books for each of our 6 expeditions, inspired by Waldorf Education’s approach. Lesson books, informal and formal assessments, learning activities, and field journals are all utilized as ways to track student progress on skills and standards throughout the entire school year. Individual assignments are not graded with a traditional grading system of point value and letter based, but as a demonstration of a student’s mastery of a standard-aligned skill or piece of knowledge. Standards based grading allows the learning community to see the development of a specific skill over time, and clearly see and track trends.
  • Upon the completion of each expedition, students who show proficiency for at least 80 percent of all skills taught and practiced throughout the expedition earn a Badge for that expedition. Students can demonstrate proficiency over time or in their end of unit Performance Task shared at our Exhibitions of Learning.
  • Typically on the last day of each expedition, families and community members are invited into school to celebrate their child’s work. Students are ready to present, share, and celebrate their amazing work throughout an expedition with visitors and may choose to create an exhibition out in the field.