Expeditionary Learning Schools Outward Bound

Expeditionary Learning Schools Outward Bound (ELS) is a comprehensive K-12 educational design that combines rigorous academic content and real world projects called Learning Expeditions with active teaching and community service. 

This school reform model focuses on teaching in an engaging way while emphasizing learning by doing, character growth, teamwork, and literacy. The ELS approach is experiential and project-based, involving students in original research — with experts — to create high-quality products for audiences beyond the classroom.

Schools in the ELS program build cultures of high academic and social standards by designing Learning Expeditions aligned with district and state standards, grouping students heterogeneously, and supporting all students to achieve beyond their expectations. 

The principles and practices of ELS learning are research-based, and the ELS approach to teaching has been proven effective by third-party research conducted by the Rand Corporation, the Academy for Educational Development, the American Institutes for Research, and the National Staff Development Council. 

A 2002 meta-analysis of twenty-nine comprehensive school reform models by the Center for Research on the Education of Students at Risk gave Expeditionary Learning the highest rating given to any model created in the previous ten years. 

The Kauffman Foundation supported the development and implementation of ELS in several Kansas City area schools to improve student academic achievement, as well as revitalize teaching, increase parental participation, and reduce the need for disciplinary actions.

Kansas City now has one of the highest concentrations of ELS school models in the country, including suburban, inner cit,y and private schools:

  • Kansas City Academy, Kansas City, Mo.;
  • Red Bridge Elementary School in the Center School District, Kansas City, Mo.;
  • the Distinguished Scholar Program, a Small Learning Community at Olathe North High School, Olathe, Kan.;
  • Robert E. Clark Middle School, Bonner Springs Elementary School, Delaware Ridge Elementary School, and Edwardsville Elementary School, all in the Bonner Springs/Edwardsville, Kan. School District.

The model emphasizes teamwork. Students are combined into “crews” and a staff member is assigned to each crew as their academic advisor, primary parent contact, and mentor. Attention is placed on hands-on teaching techniques, and students are encouraged to “seek” their answers to problems and assignments, individually and through teams.

All subjects center around an assigned expedition (such as health and fitness, the environment, etc.) which will spark students' interest, support critical literacy, promote character development, create a sense of adventure, and foster an ethic of service.

To date, more than 150 urban, rural, and suburban schools across the country have adopted the ELS model. For more information on ELS, visit www.elschools.org