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  • Elementary school gets new tenant

    Growing Sierra Academy moves to Nevada City

    Andrew Wedgbury 

    Nevada City Advocate


    The Sierra Academy of Expeditionary Learning (SAEL) graduating class of 2018 will be the first for the school at its new location, the former Nevada City Elementary School in Nevada City. Now housed in portable buildings near Silver Springs High School in Grass Valley, the Expeditionary Learning (EL) school will occupy the venerable 1930s building by July. 

    Students and staff are excited about the upcoming move, but none perhaps more than Principal Erica Crane.

    “It’s such a great opportunity for the kids,” she said. “The idea of a full school, with our own classrooms, auditorium, our own space, that is such an excellent position for us.” 

    SAEL recently signed a 10-year lease with the Nevada City School District for the use of the NCE campus, which formerly housed the Yuba River Charter School. 

    Crane said that there wouldn’t be any major renovations as the facility is in good condition. 

    “We also want to make sure we honor the history of the building,” she said. “We feel good being in there and how old it is. It’s awesome.”

    When SAEL moves into the school it will have about 220 students and expects to have 30 college-bound graduates this year. Last year, there were 13 graduates. Crane noted the school is steadily building its student base and community outreach. Having the new campus and being able to put down roots will also help to bolster recruitment efforts, she said.

    SAEL is a tuition-free, project-based, college preparatory charter high school that partners with the national organization EL Education. Its mission is “to create classrooms where teachers can fulfill their highest aspirations, and students achieve more than they think possible, becoming active contributors in building a better world.” 

    Using a whole school approach, the curriculum immerses students in a combination of hands-on college prep academics with embedded service, fieldwork and adventure. Teachers create semester-long units of study called Expeditions.

    “We’re a charter school that’s using the EL model that’s nationally recognized and is project-based and has a very clear vision and mission,” Crane said. “We’re an entity that is focused on this model’s practices backed by a lot of research and heart and soul, and what those practices can mean for kids.”

    As part of the program, the school partners with community groups and projects so students get hands-on experience and learn to contribute to the benefit of the community. Work in the field with an Expedition can take students and teachers from the Yuba River to Sacramento, and even overseas – all with the objective of the student learning through doing while in service to the community.

    As SAEL continues to grow, Crane noted, they are seeing students come from schools from throughout the area, as well as some whose families have moved here for just the EL school. 

    “We’ve had a family move here from Arizona, another from Chicago, just so their students can attend the school,” she said. “It’s unique that you can have a K-12 Expeditionary Learning experience here, with Grass Valley Charter just down the street. It’s a mix, and a lot of word of mouth between students, parents, community partners and information on line.”

    Tami McVay’s daughter, Carly, is an SAEL senior who will graduate this year. 

    “She started her first day of school in kindergarten at NCE, and now her last day of high school will also be at NCE,” McVay said.

    Choosing SAEL came about after a school assembly for eighth graders at Seven Hills School. 

    “Different schools … gave a synopsis of what they offered. SAEL was in the top three, and then I went to an information night for the program. And what Carly liked about it was the involvement in hands-on learning. She determined she did better in a hands-on project-based environment.” 

    Tami went on to say that her daughter had always enjoyed the bike shop at Seven Hills and the field trip to Sacramento’s Loaves and Fishes organization to donate the repaired bikes. 

    “She was really touched by that, and then she came to SAEL and got to go to Panama and help build a road and a tilapia pond for 10 days. She discovered for herself that this is how she learns best.”

    “They’re being good humans, and just being who they are, that’s what I appreciate about it,” said McVay. 

    For more information on SAEL, visit sierracademy.net

    About the photo:  

    Students get hands-on experience in the classroom and in the field.

    Photo by Andrew Wedgbury