Co-Heads of School Welcome Letter
Welcome to Tahoe Expedition Academy. We are ecstatic about starting our third year in business, about growing in size each of the past two years (having almost reached capacity in all grades) and about earning a reputation as an adventure-based school and a change-maker in education.
Using experiential learning as a framework for our approach, we teach core and enrichment subjects in a hands-on environment. In addition to gaining knowledge and skill in science, math, social science, art, music and Spanish, daily emphasis is directed toward literacy development, study habits and academic skills. Moreover, we promote character development, engage our students in adventure and participate in field studies that extend content and skills beyond the classroom walls and into natural environment and the community. To continue the active learning outside of the school day, the school offers a host of extracurricular, athletic and summer activities, which also take advantage of the splendor of the Lake Tahoe Basin and the area’s vast natural resources.
At Tahoe Expedition Academy, we believe students are born to learn. To help all students realize their potential, our teachers design authentic, engaging and meaningful learning experiences. These project-based, place-based, interdisciplinary academic lessons follow an 'inch-wide, mile deep' approach. They allow our students to understand subjects from multiple perspectives and lead them to various types of media, primary sources and local experts. Students complete case studies on important local issues, volunteer for service and contribute time and energy to our community. They create products with real-world relevance, applicability and publicity. In the end, our primary goals are to ensure our students achieve their personal summits, value the learning process and enjoy coming to school each day.
DC Larrabee and Taylor Simmers
Co-Heads of School
Head of School Announcement
We are excited to announce that Dr. Charles F. Clark will become our Head of School at Tahoe Expedition Academy starting officially on August 1, 2014. He brings to us an extensive background in independent school leadership, as well as the character, energy, collaborative approach and foresight necessary to guide TEA well into the future.
Charlie has twenty-nine years of experience as Head of School at a wide range of independent schools, from start-ups to established, traditional to progressive, small to large, elementary to high school and boarding. He will share and implement best practices from his years of experience and draw from his relevant connections in the independent school world. Also, he has a proven track record of success in annual fundraising, capital campaigns, growing student bodies, creating strategic plans, and developing thriving school communities. Most recently, Charlie was the founding Head of School at a start-up international boarding high school, the CATS Academy Boston.
Charlie shares TEA's philosophy of inspiring students to learn by doing. He considers himself to be a strong advocate for student-centered learning, which he has embraced at every school where he has worked. Charlie’s warmth and strong, yet gentle, temperament help him connect well with teachers and students. He is excited to be a part of and enhance a community based on TEA's core values and character virtues.
Charlie's demonstrated strong leadership and management skills will help TEA further develop the essential structures and systems necessary to build an exceptional school. With his solid operational experience, we believe that TEA’s unique vision, mission and EL based curriculum can be delivered at a high level and with a sustainable model. Charlie is committed to helping create an organization where our founders, DC & Taylor, will thrive and be able to concentrate their talents and enthusiasm on our students and educational program.
Charlie adds, "The Founders bring the ultimate vision, energy and vitality necessary to continue to launch their unique educational ideals into practice, which are the differentiating factors in TEA's model."
Charlie is happily married to Gail Clark (also a lifelong educator), and they have three children and eight grandchildren, with another due in June.
We are mindful of the importance of this decision for the community and would like to thank all the teachers, staff, parents and students who participated in the process and shared their views with us. Your questions and feedback played a large part in making our final decision.
Please join us in welcoming Charlie to the TEA community! We look forward to what we will accomplish under Charlie's leadership as our Head of School.
TEA Board of Trustees and Founders
Tahoe Expedition Academy was founded in January of 2011, when courageous parents and talented educators collaborated to create an adventure-based, experiential learning school for children in the Lake Tahoe Basin. The energy and momentum these individuals generated gave teachers, parents and students alike an opportunity to take education a new direction in the area – one that combined high-level academics with character building, nature and hands-on exploration and discovery. Along with devoted faculty, dedicated Board Members, generous families, eager students and a partnership with Expeditionary Learning, the school opened in September of 2011, with 72 students in PreK-8th grade.
History, Mission and Pillars
Tahoe Expedition Academy was founded in January of 2011, when courageous educators and parents collaborated to create an adventure-based, experiential learning school for children in the Lake Tahoe Basin. The energy and momentum these individuals generated gave teachers, parents and students alike an opportunity to take education in a new direction – one that combines high-level academics, character building and hands-on exploration and adventure. Along with devoted faculty, dedicated Board Members, generous families, eager students and the Expeditionary Learning Network, the school opened in September of 2011 with 72 students in Pre-K-8th grade. Since its inception, TEA has nearly doubled its student body, added 9th & 10th Grades and earned Accreditation for the Upper School by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).
Tahoe Expedition Academy’s engaging academics and outdoor adventures empower students to reach their full potential by cultivating intellectual growth, character and confidence.
Our Philosophy: Survive and Thrive
When it comes to educating young people, TEA stretches the imagination by teaching outside the walls of a traditional classroom. TEA provides a forward-thinking approach to learning that takes students into the breathtaking beauty of the Tahoe Basin and the world beyond the Sierras. Here, students aren’t confined to a desk or a standard. Instead, they engage with educational adventures, character development and ‘survive and thrive’ experiences that push them to the boundaries of their intellectual, social and personal comfort zones, where we believe learning really happens. The extraordinary teachers at TEA create Learning Expeditions - long term, “inch-wide and mile-deep” thematic units - to make academic content come alive for students. Through our innovative teaching methods, TEA instills in each young person a love of learning as well as a profound appreciation for their community and the natural world.
The following three pillars, academics, character and adventure, provide anchor points for the work we do with our students. We are proud of these guiding principles, which we treat as equals and make us unique in our mission to foster meaningful student engagement.
Academics: Think Critically
At the foundation of our academic program, lies an inquiry-based curriculum that teaches critical thinking -- a crucial skill for professional, academic and personal success. Our student-centered approach to education empowers children to solve complex, real-world problems and to communicate those solutions effectively in speaking and writing. In addition to learning core academics like mathematics and the arts, students regularly engage in literacy-rich, science-heavy projects to gain a deep understanding of the subject matter. Students in 1st Grade published a Field Guide and presented it at the Migratory Bird Festival in South Lake Tahoe, for example, and Middle School students met with members of the Squaw Valley Development team and followed up with letters regarding their plan to import water into Olympic Valley for the future development of a water park. Products like these allow students to take their learning beyond the classroom walls, to demonstrate their ability as thinkers, authors and doers and to develop the skills and confidence they need to be successful in today’s dynamic world.
Building character and community are not add-ons to our program; rather, they are embedded throughout the school culture and curriculum. Our school counselors and teachers have created and implemented a social-emotional learning program, for instance, and school-wide Character Values act as the cornerstones of the work we do as well as the relationships we create. From completing our unique ‘survive and thrive’ experiences and from proactively building character, students learn how to overcome adversity, to make ethical decisions and to become great leaders. Further, through service-oriented projects and field studies, TEA students act as citizens and stewards in order to positively impact the communities and the natural world around them.
Adventure: Learn By Doing
Our students actively participate in hands-on, academic adventures on a regular basis. In addition to building knowledge in the classroom, students spend up to ⅓ of their time in the field working with experts and engaging firsthand with content and skills. Upper School students, for instance, traveled to Panama to study the Panama Canal and the global economy, and they visited the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute there, a world renown epicenter for scientific study, to investigate the relationship between the synthetic and natural worlds. Lower School students spent 3 days and 2 nights winter camping in the Sierra, for example, to research the snowpack and to make forecasts about run-off and the water table. Both in the classroom and on these types of field studies, teachers serve as mentors and guides who challenge, support and inspire students. Moreover, our talented teachers encourage students to take calculated risks, to produce quality work and to realize their potential as scholars in the process.
Meaningful Academics and Real-World Learning – EL schools design meaningful curricula that prepare and train students for high-level academics. They create educational experiences that result in lasting knowledge, sound character and useful, transferable skills. EL Schools promote engagement through real-world learning, which focuses on relevant issues, self-directed topics, hands-on projects and high-quality products. They have strong fieldwork components, which integrate the teaching of core and enrichment subjects.
Learning Expeditions - Learning expeditions are the signature component of Expeditionary Learning Schools and the core component of our academic program, especially for upper grades. Learning expeditions make content come alive for children, with compelling topics and questions, hands-on fieldwork, experts, local case studies and service learning. At TEA, we align learning expeditions school-wide, throughout all of our Classroom Crews using the four primary elements: Fire, Water, Earth and Air. This structure allows for multi-age collaboration, vertical integration of curriculum and shared, high-quality experiences.
Building Character Traits - Service permeates the school culture both as an important element of academic achievement and ethical development. It fosters courage, respect, community, discovery and craftsmanship. At TEA, we are crew, not passengers. We guide ourselves, lead others and explore our local ecosystems and communities. Our unique approach to learning promotes the habits and character traits essential to academic and personal success in school and beyond.
Crewmember - Each student is a crewmember, not a passenger on this journey.
Portfolios - An educational portfolio is a collection of work samples and evidence of learning (teacher narratives, checklists, student interviews, photos, art, etc.) that each student will maintain throughout the school year. Portfolios travel with each child from grade to grade during their enrollment at TEA. The purpose of developing portfolios is for parents and children to have concrete and authentic documentation by which to measure the incredible growth our students will achieve from kindergarten to 8th grade graduation.
Adventure Education - TEA students can look forward to spending a significant amount of time in the field (about 1/3 of our school days) conducting fieldwork, completing service learning, exploring and pushing their physical limits and intellectual boundaries. For younger students, many of these experiential opportunities will take place in close proximity to the Academy’s facility. For students enrolled in second grade and up, they can look forward to more adventurous “rite of passage” experiences in the Lake Tahoe Basin that promote trust, cooperation and community. The latter runs the spectrum between three-day, two-night car camping trips to five-day minimalist wilderness backpacking adventures.
- Type: Quasi-experimental matched comparison group design
- Location: Rochester, NY
- Date: September 2010
- Author: UMASS Donahue Institute
Researchers found two important findings:
- Participating in an EL school resulted in substantial and statistically significant achievement advantages for elementary students in English/language arts and math, and for both years of middle school English/language arts.
- These statistically significant positive effects predict that, on average, enrollment in an EL school would have lifted 19% of non-EL students into the proficient category.
- Type: Quasi-experimental study
- Location: National
- Date: August 2010
- Author: Mountain Measurement, Inc.
Expeditionary Learning’s 10 Design Principles
Expeditionary Learning is built on 10 design principles that reflect the educational philosophy, values and beliefs of Outward Bound. We promote and enact these 10 Design Principles throughout learning expeditions and within the school community.
1. The Primacy of Self-Discovery
Learning happens best with emotion, challenge and the requisite support. People discover their abilities, values, passions, and responsibilities in situations that offer adventure and the unexpected. In Expeditionary Learning schools, students undertake tasks that require perseverance, fitness, craftsmanship, imagination, self-discipline and significant achievement. A Crew Leader’s primary task is to help students overcome their fears and discover they can do more than they think they can.
2. The Having of Wonderful Ideas
Teaching in Expeditionary Learning schools fosters curiosity about the world by creating learning situations that provide something important to think about, time to experiment, and time to make sense of what is observed.
3. The Responsibility for Learning
Learning is both a personal process of discovery and a social activity. Everyone learns both individually and as part of a group. Every aspect of an Expeditionary Learning school encourages both children and adults to become increasingly responsible for directing their own personal and collective learning.
4. Empathy and Caring
Learning is fostered best in communities where ideas are respected and where there is mutual trust. Learning groups are small in Expeditionary Learning schools, with a caring adult looking after the progress and acting as an advocate for each child. Older crew mentor younger ones, and crew feel physically and emotionally safe.
5. Success and Failure
All students need to be successful if they are to build the confidence and capacity to take risks and meet increasingly difficult challenges. But it is also important for students to learn from their failures, to persevere when things are hard, and to learn how to turn disadvantages into opportunities.
6. Collaboration and Competition
Individual development and group development are integrated so that the value of friendship, trust, and group action is clear. Students are encouraged to compete, not against each other, but with their own personal best and with rigorous standards of excellence.
7. Diversity and Inclusion
Both diversity and inclusion increase the richness of ideas, creative power, problem-solving ability and respect for others. In Expeditionary Learning schools, students investigate and value their different histories and talents as well as those of other communities and cultures. Schools and learning groups are heterogeneous.
8. The Natural World
A direct and respectful relationship with the natural world refreshes the human spirit and teaches the important ideas of recurring cycles and cause and effect. Students learn to become stewards of the earth and of future generations.
9. Solitude and Reflection
Crew and Crew Leaders need time alone to explore their own thoughts, make their own connections, and create their own ideas. They also need to exchange their reflections with other crew and adults.
10. Service and Compassion
We are crew, not passengers. Students and teachers are strengthened by acts of consequential service to others. One of an Expeditionary Learning school’s primary functions is to prepare students with the attitudes and skills they will need to learn from and be of service to others.
Faculty and Staff
Taylor Simmers, Chief Academic Officer, 7th/8th Grade Crew Leader and Founder
Over the course of his career in education, which began in 1995, Taylor has worked with students in K-12th grade in a variety of locations and types of schools across the country. He has taught, coached, designed curriculum, led outdoor education programs and served as a school administrator. Since 2004, Taylor has lived and taught in Lake Tahoe and developed an appreciation for and an understanding of the developmental needs of students in their formative years.
Taylor possesses a solid background in academics, athletics and adventure. As a student, Taylor earned his B.A. in English from Princeton and a Masters in Education from Brown University, where he embraced Ted Sizer’s constructivist approach to teaching. As an educator, Taylor believes authentic products, meaningful academics and outdoor experiences create long lasting knowledge and important skills for children. To help start a school that combines these educational components has been a dream come true. As an athlete, Taylor won two National Championships in lacrosse at Princeton University, where he earned All-American and Scholar All-American honors. He also played lacrosse professionally for the Philadelphia Wings and the San Francisco Dragons and has directed numerous lacrosse camps throughout the West since he moved to San Francisco in 1999. For the past ten years, Taylor has guided adventure-based trips for students throughout the American West, where he currently enjoys backcountry skiing, mountain biking and climbing on his own time.
Taylor and his wife currently live in Incline Village, NV and welcome a new baby boy, Sully, into their lives.
Annie Chippendale, PreK Director, Founding Teacher
Anne Chippendale has been a teacher and coach in the Lake Tahoe area for almost 30 years. Anne earned her Teaching Credential from University of Nevada, Reno while coaching the Squaw Valley Ski Team and facilitating swimming lessons at the Truckee Pool. Soon after, she began teaching at the State Preschool in Kings Beach, where she developed a fun and creative multicultural program for her students and families. Prior to Tahoe Expedition, she spent four years at Creekside Cooperative Charter School.
Outside the school environment, Ms. Annie loves traveling and seeing the world beyond our immediate reach. She volunteered and cheered for our local athletes at the last two Olympics (Italy 2006, Vancouver 2010), has skied in Argentina and enjoys biking and hiking in our backyard, on the Tahoe Rim Trail.
Ms. Annie, as she is affectionately called by all who love and appreciate her, wholeheartedly believes that education is much more than classroom academics. She encourages the opening of doors to explore our environment, other people and cultures. With a positive outlook on life, she believes a well-balanced person will thrive, and in turn, benefit those around them as well as the future of our world.
Before moving to the area, she spent her childhood in Palo Alto and earned a Degree in Human Development from U.C. Davis.
Rosie Striffler, Kindergarten Crew Leader
Rosie believes that every child has unique strengths, abilities, and passions that can be accessed through dynamic interaction. She graduated from Sierra Nevada College with a B.A. in Humanities and a concentration in Psychology. Rosie is currently working towards her Master’s Degree and is writing her thesis on Strengths Based Education in the ESL classroom.
Rosie began her teaching career at Tahoe Safe Alliance as a Violence Prevention Educator, where she had the opportunity to teach Kindergarten through High School, and a series of classes at UNR. Soon after, she received her Nevada Multiple Subject Teaching Credential and Teaching English as a Second Language endorsement. Over the course of the past two years, Rosie’s teaching has been focused on language acquisition, phonics, writing, and math skills for Kindergarten, 1st and 2nd graders.
Rosie’s childhood was spent on a small organic apple farm in Watsonville, CA, where she spent most of her time outdoors finger-painting, exploring, and just getting dirty. Her current interests and creative outlets are painting, writing poetry, yoga, sustainable living, and enjoying the beautiful local outdoors.
Melanie Cooke, 1st Grade Crew Leader, Curriculum Guide, Founding Teacher
Academics, character and adventure define Melanie. Melanie graduated Summa Cum Laude from Humboldt State University in 1998. With the lifelong dream of becoming a teacher, she went straight into an internship and received her Multiple Subject Teaching Credential in addition to credentials in music, English, social studies and German in 1999. Melanie is especially passionate about teaching language arts and has received extensive training in both reading and writing instruction through the Columbia Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. She also serves the TEA community as the lower school Curriculum Director, working to support TEAchers in the areas of curriculum, instruction and assessment. Melanie also facilitates the relationship between TEA and Expeditionary Learning.
High expectations are the foundation of Melanie’s teaching style. She balances high expectations for student character and behavior with an imaginative and playful teaching style that encourages a life-long love of learning. Driven to learn, her students produce high quality, authentic products. Through collaborative, hands-on instruction, Melanie makes sure that every child understands the basics, and then encourages students to dig deeper and deeper into the subject. She believes that with support, there is no limit to what children can learn.
Melanie is a California native who found her passion for the outdoors during her summers in the Sierra. She has spent months at a time backpacking, climbing and paddling her way across the range. She has extensive backpacking experience including hiking the Pacific Crest Trail and the John Muir Trail. Through Girl Scouting, Melanie has guided high school aged girls on multiple, two week, 70+ mile trips. She also has a keen interest in wilderness survival, and has taken four classes from the world famous survivalist, Tom Brown Jr. She shares this interest with her husband, a California State Park Ranger.
Melanie spends as much of her free time as possible in the backcountry, accompanying her two daughters on backpacking adventures. She also enjoys playing and performing music. She is an avid singer and plays guitar as well. She can also be seen in local community theater performances. She is a certified Orff Schulwerk and Music Together music teacher. In addition to working with kids at school, Melanie volunteers with Girl Scouts as a leader and summer camp Program Director.
Melanie loves the adventure of teaching at TEA!
Katie Bloom, 2nd Grade Crew Leader
Katie has been teaching since 2005. Her experiences includes teaching kindergarten and first grade students at Custom Learning Academy, middle school English Language Learners and kindergarten in Reno and Creative Writing and Art at Mammoth Elementary School. Through her experiences teaching, she has developed engaging and rigorous curriculum. Katie strives to create a well managed, inspiring and engaging learning environment that fosters the growth of students academically, socially and emotionally. Katie scaffolds and differentiates instruction and employs a range of effective, active pedagogy to address various learning styles. Cooperation, responsibility, accountability and respect are modeled and her students are taught the tools needed to solve their problems and become self motivated learners. She uses positive reinforcement to encourage desired behaviors and actively communicates with parents.
Outside the classroom, Katie enjoys skiing, hiking, cooking, dancing, reading and spending time with friends and family. Originally from Buffalo, NY, Katie went to college at the State University of New York Plattsburgh, nestled in the Adirondack mountains. Her adventures in the Adirondacks made it easy for Katie to see that she always wants to live in a mountain town. Katie lived in Mammoth Lakes for seven years, where her experiences as a recreation guide and ski instructor led her into the classroom. Having travelled to Canada, Peru, Costa Rica, and Mexico, Katie’s list of places to visit is still long. She has been happy to call Truckee home since 2009.
Stephanie Gibbons, 3rd Grade Crew Leader, Founding Teacher
Stephanie has been in the field of education for over twenty years. Her extensive experience in the classroom coupled with her love of the outdoors make her integral to our Expeditionary Learning faculty. A graduate of Salem State University, Stephanie has a Bachelors of Science degree in Early Childhood Education, and is a certified teacher. She has rich knowledge, experience and training in Columbia Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, Fountas and Pinnell’s literacy instruction, Responsive Classroom approach, Expeditionary Learning curriculum, and Wilderness First Responder certification.
Stephanie’s vision of an effective classroom is based on a foundation of setting rigorous academic standards, thoughtful assessments, and responsive social-emotional instruction. She combines collaborative, authentic learning and individualized instruction to help each student reach his or her full academic and personal potential. In her free time, she takes full advantage of all that Tahoe has to offer, and may be found devouring a book on the lake, skiing with her children and husband at Alpine Meadows, backpacking through the Sierras, or heading into downward dog.
Loren Trux, 4th Grade Crew Leader
Loren earned his California Multiple subject Teaching Credential from Chico State University and is currently working toward a Waldorf teaching certificate. During his most recent teaching experiences in Waldorf education he discovered many alternative methods for reading instruction and teaching techniques. Loren discovered his passion for working with children at a day camp in Tahoe City more than fifteen years ago and is very excited to be doing what he loves in Tahoe once again. He is eager to learn more about the expeditionary model and looks forward to sharing his ideas with the communiTEA.
He also enjoys many outdoor activities including mountain biking, kayaking, fishing and exploring nature with his family. Loren likes to play music and work making things with his hands. He lives in Kings Beach with his wife Ashley and daughter Iyla. Loren believes that a teacher’s task is to help each student reach their greatest potential. To do this he must be a guide, and companion in the pursuit of knowledge and the pursuit should be authentic for the student and teacher.
Matt Morrison, 5th Grade Crew Leader
Matt's first experience with teaching was during his time as a snowboard instructor at Northstar right after graduating from college; he had the opportunity to instruct both adults and children, but found that his great interest was instructing kids. It was this enthusiasm that led him to lead the 5th grade program at Northstar, as well as Northstar's first Snowboard Outreach Society event, which catered for "at risk" kids. A call to adventure saw Matt work in the private yacht industry for the next 6 years, which led him all throughout the islands and cultures of the South Pacific and on to New Zealand, where he settled down with his Kiwi wife. In 2009, Matt's excitement for teaching led him back to school to get his NZ teaching degree, and a full time teaching position at Leamington School. During his years teaching 4th/5th grade classes at Leamington School, Matt saw the importance and power of education outside of the classroom.
Matt settled back in the U.S. in 2012, where he joined the Crew at TEA and began his journey into Expeditionary Learning. He is extremely excited to continue to develop this style of teaching at TEA and believes that TEA's adventure component is crucial in getting kids to reach their true potential, both academically and socially.
Matt's interests outside the classroom include snowboarding, hiking, running, and spending time with his wife and 3 children. Matt has a Bachelor's Degree in Business and Entrepreneurial Venture from Sierra Nevada College and a Graduate Diploma in Teaching from the University of Waikato.
Shelly Robertson, 6th Grade Crew Leader
We are excited to introduce and welcome Shelly Robertson to the Tahoe Expedition Academy CommuniTEA. Shelly will be joining the TEA faculty as our new 6th Grade Crew Leader for the 2014-2015 school year. Shelly earned her degree in Elementary Education from the University of Nevada, Reno. After receiving her Nevada Teaching Certificate, she started her own tutoring business, which led to obtaining a position as a Middle School Social Studies teacher, a position that she has held and enjoyed for the past two years. Shelly strives to challenge and engage her students in project based, experiential and authentic learning environments. She recognizes the importance of teaching children to become informed citizens that view the world from multiple social and scientific perspectives and with a sense of empathy.
In addition to being a progressive and well rounded educator, Shelly is also an accomplished athlete. She competed on the US Freestyle Team for eleven years and received several accolades, including two overall titles at the Rhalves Banzai Tour as well as a series of World Cup and National Championship wins. For more information about Shelly’s skiing accomplishments, please visit her website at http://shellyrobertson.com. When she is not in the classroom or on the podium, Shelly enjoys coaching both skiing and volleyball and takes every opportunity to get out and surf. Her greatest joy is to work with and help children set goals and provide them with opportunities to achieve them, Shelly encourages children to develop self-confidence and practice a work ethic that will stay with them throughout their life.
Nate Martz, Upper School Crew Leader
A life-long love of learning has turned into a meaningful career as a math and science educator. Growing up in a small Connecticut town, Nate learned to appreciate the value of a good book and a curious mind. He initially studied aerospace engineering at the University of Michigan, working alongside future astronauts in a rigorous program of physics and higher level mathematics. After two years he decided to combine this love of engineering with his musical interests, leading him to change paths and earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Music Production and Engineering from Berklee College of Music. He spent several years working at colleges in the Boston area, teaching and training undergraduate students to produce stage events in technical theatre, dance, and concert music. It was during these experiences that Nate discovered his true passion for working with young people and helping them to implement practical applications of mathematics and scientific inquiry.
Nate further developed this work by becoming a high school teacher in New York City, where he taught math and science at an Expeditionary Learning school in the South Bronx. During this time he earned his Master’s Degree in Education from St. John’s University. He also coached the cross country and track and field teams, sharing his love for the science and art of distance running.
When he’s not the classroom, Nate spends his time training for marathons and triathlons. He has also been known to find mathematical patterns in his musings on the drums and guitar. He’s looking forward to working alongside TEA students and staff to bring his passion and experiences to Tahoe.
Laird Blackwell, Upper School Humanities Teacher
Laird received his PhD in Education and Psychology from Stanford University in 1974. After moving to Tahoe a few years later, he taught at Olympic Valley School (now Squaw Valley Academy) for a couple years before becoming a Professor at Sierra Nevada College. After 31 years there teaching various courses in psychology, literature, writing, and mythology, he retired in spring, 2012. He was honored by students as "Professor of the Year" on numerous occasions over the years.
He is an avid hiker and photographer with a special love of wildflowers--he has written (and done the photography for) several wildflower field guides. His latest--Wildflowers of California: A Month-by-Month Guide--was released in May, 2012 by University of California Press.
He lives with his wife Melinda and their menagerie of horses, alpacas, llama, miniature donkey, ducks, chickens, cats, dogs, and parrot in Washoe Valley, where Melinda leads equine therapy and educational programs for at-risk kids.
Laird has an exceptional collection of old books (yes, those hold-in-your-hand artifacts of years gone by!) specializing in 19th century mystery, detection, and fantasy. Although he is looking forward to retirement reading, as his former students suspected, he seems unable to completely retire--he's excited about sharing some of his passions and experience one morning a week with the students at Tahoe Expedition Academy.
Catherine Schnurrenberger, Upper School Science Teacher
Catherine received a Bachelor’s of Science from U.C. Davis in Range and Wildlands Science. She worked for many years in Rangeland Ecology and Botany for the U.S. Forest Service, U.C. Davis and private consulting companies. Her experience working in meadow ecosystems prompted her to return to school where she earned a Masters in Science in Hydrology from the University of Nevada, Reno. Since that time she has worked as a Botanist/Hydrologist based out of the Tahoe area. Catherine has applied her skills as a field Botanist/Hydrologist to instruct local students through various local non-profit organizations such as Sierra Watershed Educational Partnerships, The California Native Plant Society and Gateway Mountain Center. Catherine continues to work in the applied sciences, while raising her two boys and sharing the wonders of the natural world with them through direct adventures in nature.
Catherine has also pursued a passion for adventure in the natural world in her personal life, through long distance horse racing, mountain running, long distance bicycle touring, mountaineering, climbing, skiing, kayaking and mountain biking. Shortly after finishing her Bachelors of Science at U.C. Davis Catherine, and her partner, bicycled from California to Tierra del Fuego, Argentina. This trip shaped her ideals creating a connection to a world beyond political borders and an awareness of the human needs and desires we all share.
Since her initial bicycle trip to South America Catherine continued to travel for work and adventure throughout Latin America, living for 6 months in Bariloche, Argentina studying the native Huemul deer. Catherine’s personal experiences have led her to believe that direct experiences with the natural environment and different societies create understanding and awareness more profound and powerful than any lesson learned in a classroom. Catherine strives to create these connections between people and the environment in all aspects of her professional and personal life.
Amy Richards, Assistant Teacher
Amy began her teaching career as an outdoor educator and naturalist for the YMCA on Orcas Island, WA and subsequently the Marin Headlands in the Bay Area. Witnessing the power of experiential learning through the lens of marine and coastal ecology and the character development of the students through low and high rope courses, Amy moved to Tahoe to pursue an Elementary Education credential from Sierra Nevada College. For five years, she taught 4th grade, primarily with low income and linguistically diverse learners in Reno and Sparks.
Realizing the unique educational challenges facing her students, she spent a year earning her Guided Language Acquisition and Design certificate, which integrates the core content areas of literacy, science and social studies to enhance language acquisition and literacy. She continued to incorporate best practices in curriculum development, teaching methods and language acquisition through a professional development course hosted by the Department of Education. After combining meaningful content with explicit literacy instruction, Amy continued her literacy training with the National Writing Project, becoming a consultant for the Northern Nevada Writing Project. In this role, she presented and crafted model lessons regarding the 6 writing traits for teachers to utilize in their own classrooms.
After taking time off to be with her two children, Amy returned to education as a graduate student at the University of Nevada Reno, where she received a Masters of Science in Equity and Diversity in Education. While in graduate school, Amy was drawn to Expeditionary Learning as it combines many of her beliefs as an educator: meaningful learning only takes place when the content is real, hands-on and engaging. When it became time to send their son to kindergarten, Amy and her husband chose TEA because it expands on the premises of Expeditionary Learning’s commitment to character education to include adventure education. Adventure is often on Amy’s mind as she pursues most activities above and below the water: be it scuba diving, swimming, camping, biking and trail running.
Amy holds two Bachelor of Arts degrees from UC Santa Cruz: Environmental Education and Latin American and Latino Studies. In addition, Amy is trained as a Student Learning Facilitator, improving student achievement through the use of research based engagement strategies, assessment practices and differentiated instruction.
Rob VanCleve, Interim High School Director, History Teacher
Coaching cross-country and track at a small independent school in Tallahassee, FL drew Rob to teaching. After completing a B.S. in Communications from Florida State University, he enrolled in graduate school to pursue his M.Ed. in Social Studies. Since graduating, Rob has taught and coached at college preparatory independent schools for 17 years serving in a variety of roles including history department chair, thesis advisor, and Eco Council sponsor.
Born in Boulder, CO and raised mostly on the Lynyrd Skynyrd side of Jacksonville, FL, Rob did not learn to ski or surf until adulthood. He is a happily average skier and a solid novice surfer who loves spending time in the ocean floating on the board and skiing the nicely groomed runs. Thankfully, Rob has had a bit more athletic success with running in events from the ½ mile to the ½ marathon. His best results were earned on the track where he won five USATF Masters National Championships in middle distance races. Rob is also a certified USATF Level I coach. He has coached several individual state champions and his cross-country teams have won five state championships in Nevada in the small schools division.
First and foremost, Rob is teacher and coach at heart with a passion for helping students develop intellectual curiosity, academic discipline, and confidence.
Katie McConaghy, Upper School Math Teacher
Katie McConaghy is a statistician, mathematician, educator, and entrepreneur. She graduated from James Madison University with a Bachelors Degree in Mathematics and Secondary Education in 2003. She then went on to complete a Masters Degree in Statistics at San Diego State University. After graduating in 2005, Katie followed her passion for statistics into the actuarial science industry. She worked for an actuarial consulting firm specializing in non-life insurance. After spending almost three years gaining knowledge and experience she decided to take the leap back to academia. Since 2008 Katie has made education her main focus.
Katie started a private tutoring business, High Tide Tutoring (HTT), in 2009. Currently on the ground in San Diego and Lake Tahoe, HTT is now expanding to online tutoring, focusing on all subjects from elementary school through college and beyond. In addition to managing HTT, Katie keeps her teaching skills sharp, working as a college professor at Sierra Nevada College, Lake Tahoe Community College and National University both in the classroom and online. She is passionate about education and strives to break down geographic limitations to meet the academic needs of students across the country.
Patrick McConaghy, High School English Teacher
Originally from New Jersey, Patrick moved to Tahoe in 2008 to teach English at Sierra Nevada College (SNC). He earned a Bachelor's degree in secondary education from the University of New Hampshire. While in college, he studied abroad in London and fell in love with traveling. His adventures have taken him throughout Europe to East Asia and all over the US. Patrick has experience working with boarding and day schools acting as a student care and welfare manager, assisting in admissions, and in recruiting international students. He currently calls Incline Village home with his wife Katie and two dogs. Outside of the classroom he enjoys cooking, snowboarding, and studying languages. He earned a Masters in administrative leadership from SNC in 2014. Patrick excels at assessing student needs and helping them reach their academic goals. He is excited to be a part of TEA!
Joyce Hugar, Upper School Chinese (Mandarin)
Teaching is Joyce's passion. She started her teaching career after graduating from college and having years of experience in second language instruction learning environments. She understands the difference between learning a native language and studying a second language, with the ability to use humor and entertaining activities in the pursuit of learning a second language.
Besides teaching, her experiences run from leading students on overseas study tours in England, Canada and the U.S., acting as a translator for various companies and writing and recording English lesson podcasts. Joyce was born and raised in Taiwan, speaking Taiwanese at home while Mandarin in school. Joyce earned a B.A. Degree in English Literature and Language from Providence University and “Teacher Training Program in Chinese as a Foreign Language” from Tunghai University. Joyce and her husband founded Tahoe Foreign Language Center in 2009 after moving to Tahoe from Taiwan.
Michelle McCay-Moran, Spanish Teacher and Language Coordinator
A graduate of UC Davis (BA) with a Major in International Relations and Minors in Spanish and Anthropology and a MA in Cultural Anthropology from the Universidad de las Américas, Puebla, Mexico, Michelle has been a bilingual teacher for over 25 years. Michelle has studied, worked and lived all of her adult life in or around the Spanish language. Michelle's teaching background includes preK through college formal classroom instruction though she has also directed her own private language school "Learn Spanish Now!" while teaching students of all ages throughout the greater Northern California, Nevada County and the Tahoe regions for the past 17 years after she returned to Northern California, from Mexico in 1996 to marry her true love and start a family. Michelle's passion for all things Spanish and the art of teaching allows her to constantly implement her dream of connecting people in the world while helping them realize their goals, strengths and passions through learning and language every day. She currently also lives her family dream in Tahoe with her husband Mark and their three boys, Clay, Jason and Carter.
Frederique Fenech, French Teacher
Frederique was 21 years old when, attending a class for a Master of Law in Paris, she realized that teaching was what she really wanted to do. The following year, she was hired by the University to instruct Law students, while pursuing a post-graduate degree in French Public Law (followed by one in International Public Law). Five years later, she decided it was time to diversify her experience, so she worked as an attorney for three years, and then as the assistant director in a service of the French Prime Minister. When she and her husband became parents, priority was given to the care, education and instruction of their sons. In 2012, the four of them moved to Tahoe to run the family lodge. Then Frederique also started a catering business and to teach cooking classes. But she never lost sight of the dream of her youth and when an opportunity to teach again came, she seized it.
Speaking three languages in addition to French (English, German and Russian), accomplished in Latin, she agrees with Goethe’s assertion that , "Those who know nothing of foreign languages know nothing of their own."
Emily Tessmer, Music Teacher
Emily Tessmer, Director of the Music Program at TEA has been on staff since 2011. Certified in Orff Schulwerk and Responsive Classroom, she is always exploring new avenues of music education in conjunction with new ways to deepen the spirits of children through their own personal connection to the music. Emily is an International Recording Artist signed to Paradise Music based in the UK. She has completed production on seven full length CD’s from various genres including her latest, ‘World Chanting’, which features melodic masterpieces from New Zealand, Japan, and various Native American Tribes, among others. Emily’s primary instruments are voice, and piano, however she also teaches percussion, recorder, xylophones, beginning guitar and ukulele. Her continued passion for music and performing has led her to most her cherished mission of working with children.
“It's very exciting working with children grades Kindergarten through High School at TEA! With their creative sparks at the helm and the vastness of the music, the possibilities are truly endless. I feel such gratitude for all of the experiences that music has brought into my life.” ~ Emily
Joe Taylor, Art Teacher
A Kings Beach local, Joe spearheaded the North Tahoe Boys and Girl’s Club art program and has served as its Director for the past four years. Joe has a proven track record as a community servant and works extremely well with children of all ages.
His experience, enthusiasm and knowledge of his craft make Joe an extremely valuable asset to our community. His love for his subject and background knowledge are the ingredients that are necessary to give our students the skills to identify with their innate ability to recognize beauty while they practice a passion for the aesthetics.
Eric Martin, Athletics Director, Summer Program Director and IT Coordinator
Eric graduated from Salisbury University, located on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, in 2004 with a BS in Business Marketing. At Salisbury, Eric had a standout lacrosse career -- winning two National Championships in 2003 & 2004 and was named the 2003 & 2004 National Defenseman of the Year and the 2004 National Player of the Year. Following college, Eric was drafted by a professional lacrosse team in California and made the Bay Area, specifically San Francisco, home for the past 8 years. Eric also won the 2010 World Championship in Manchester, England with the US Men’s National Team. Eric currently plays for the Major League Lacrosse team, the Boston Cannons.
In the Bay Area, Eric founded a lacrosse camp company that coached youth through high school athletes in the Bay Area, Davis, Sacramento, Lake Tahoe and Reno. He also started a nonprofit in 2008 in San Francisco, called One City Lacrosse, that exposed underserved, inner city youth to lacrosse.
Eric believes that athletic participation and competition teach character, discipline and perseverance. More immediately, sports promote healthy living habits, time management and goal setting skills critical to leading a balanced life. These skills and values learned in athletics have real world applications that can last a lifetime. Eric will draw from his extensive athletic background to help students discover and pursue their athletic passion.
Khal Pluckhan, Business Manager
Khal is a native of Guyana, South America. She has a BS in Finance from Seton Hall University and a Masters in Finance from Fairleigh Dickinson University, both in lovely New Jersey. Her career began at Macy’s East in New York City where she held various finance positions in advertising, visual merchandising and capital planning. She then worked as Brand Finance Manager at Bayer. She capped her corporate career by working in the bio-tech and R&D divisions of Pfizer in several financial capacities.
Khal and her husband have 3 boys, All three of which will be attending the school in the fall. Her family moved to Tahoe to take advantage of snow skiing, golfing, and the summers! She is very excited to work in an environment where she is involved in her children’s education.
Courtenay S. Wallpe, Ph.D., Director of Development
Courtenay has been actively engaged in fundraising, program development, marketing and strategic planning for a variety of non-profit organizations during the past two decades. After receiving Bachelor’s degrees in Psychology and Women’s Studies from the University of California, Santa Cruz, Courtenay moved to Indiana where she worked for several youth and domestic violence prevention organizations. She quickly discovered her niche for organizational development and returned to graduate school intent on helping non-profit organizations more effectively execute their missions. At Portland State University, Courtenay earned a Masters of Science in Applied Social Psychology, followed by a doctorate in Systems Science: Community Psychology before permanently settling in Incline Village, NV with her husband and their two boys.
As a founding member of Tahoe Expedition Academy, Courtenay has been involved with everything from strategic planning and board development to fundraising and the parent association. Courtenay couldn’t be more thrilled with the experience that her boys are privy to at TEA. The unique combination of engaging academics, thoughtful character development and thrilling outdoor adventures provides precisely what Courtenay believes is important for the intellectual growth, health, and happiness of our youth. Courtenay is an avid outdoor enthusiast herself, particularly partial to cycling, hiking, snow-shoeing, skiing and camping. As a two-time survivor of bone marrow cancer, Courtenay is keenly aware of just how precious each day in her life is and subsequently strives to have a positive impact on the lives of those around her. She is truly proud to be a member of Tahoe Expedition Academy’s dynamic, progressive, and loving community and is honored to support TEA’s mission.
Steve Drescher, High School Crew Leader and Director of Adventure
Steve received his BS in Kinesiology: Outdoor Education in 1995, during which time he was distracted into a career in the emergency medical services and guiding industries. In the medical field, Steve has worked as a ski patroller, wilderness EMT, field paramedic preceptor, flight paramedic, fire/rescue paramedic/firefighter, SWAT medic for local and federal agencies, and has taught high angle and swiftwater rescue skills to fire, SAR, police, and medical personnel during the last 20+ years.
An avid adventure sports enthusiast, Steve recognized the importance of being able to evacuate others from the austere environments in which he played and has been attached to various SAR teams, ski patrols, and guide services as an instructor for rescue and adventure sports skills (rock/ice climbing, whitewater kayaking, caving, mountain biking, nordic skiing) throughout the country. A graduate of Northeastern University’s Paramedic Program, Steve is a certified NVEMS Instructor (Emergency Medical Services) as well as a CPR, Advanced Cardiac Life Support, and Pediatric Advanced Life Support Instructor through the American Herat Association. As a Rescue-3 SRT-1 Instructor he has taught swift water rescue for fire departments, sheriff’s offices, guide services, lifeguards, and search and rescue teams throughout the country and has held certification as an American Canoe Association kayak/canoe instructor. He believes adventure, education and Expeditionary Learning allow students to process their knowledge on a much more intimate level and promote learning in a way traditional education can not.
Kendra Moore, Executive Administrative Assistant and Admissions Officer
Kendra is a Reno native who made her way back home after six years of living and exploring on the other coast. She graduated from Vanderbilt University, located in Nashville, TN, in 2011 with a dual BS in Human & Organizational Development and Cognitive Science. Upon graduation, Kendra made her way to New York City and spent a year studying in the highly competitive Post-Baccalaureate Pre-Medical Program at Columbia University. Eager for a change, she set her sights upon the startup community and has spent the last two years in sales.
Kendra has a great passion for healthy, active living. You can find her running the Truckee River path, hiking in the Sierras, or biking around Reno. She was bit by the travel bug as a youngster and will pounce on any and every opportunity to explore new places. The Great Smoky Mountains of Western North Carolina are the reigning favorite, followed closely by Dublin, Ireland. As an advocate for adventures and the pursuit of lifelong learning, she couldn't be happier to be a part of the Tahoe Expedition Academy family and the Lake Tahoe community.
Jen Briggs, Director of Student Services
Jen fosters a genuine belief that the wilderness offers endless opportunities for self-growth and discovery. She has spent the past 20 years working with children, adolescents, and families in a variety of settings. While she prefers working in the deep backcountry where she is most comfortable, she has spent much time in other settings such as residential treatment centers, psychiatric hospitals, adolescent group homes, and out-patient counseling agencies. Jen received her BS in Psychology from Drake University in 1993 and went on to receive her Masters in Outdoor Recreation Therapy at Indiana University in 1995. She has spent a significant amount of time working with children and adolescents struggling with emotional, behavioral, and substance abuse issues utilizing experiential activity and the wilderness to help heal families. After working in several programs throughout Utah, Jen settled in with Catherine Freer Therapy Expeditions Program where she spent 7 months a year in the backcountry helping teens work through their challenges in an expedition based program. After several years of happily living out of her backpack (rain, snow, & sunshine), Jen moved to Nevada to open the Catherine Freer Nevada Program with her husband. She continued to work in the backcountry leading expeditions and quickly became the Clinical Director and began working with parents and the greater community.
Jen received her Masters in Social Work from University of Reno in 2004 and then dove straight into motherhood with her two children. While she continues to keep her NV Licensed Social Worker Certification active, Jen has dedicated the past decade to staying home and raising children who appreciate life and recognize the importance of making a difference. Jen and her family spend their winters skiing the Sierras and their summers camping and crewing her husband, Dave, who is a committed ultra-runner. They spend as much time as possible in the mountains and on the trails. Jen is thrilled to become part of the TEA community and support students as they continue to grow into young adults who are learning to embrace their strengths through the unique environment of the wilderness classroom.
Caroline Kaplan, School Counselor
Caroline Kaplan is pleased to serve as a volunteer guidance counselor for Tahoe Expedition Academy. Since 2005 Caroline has been volunteering and interning as a counselor in various schools around the Lake Tahoe Basin. For the past three years, she has been supporting Incline High School’s counseling department by serving as their grief counselor and assisting with mentoring students on career/college planning.
Caroline graduated with a Master’s Degree in School Counseling and Educational Psychology from the University of Nevada, Reno. She graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and Music Performance.
Caroline and her husband, Jim, have two daughters, Lily and Hattie. The couple moved to Lake Tahoe in 2003 and they are thrilled to be raising a family in an environment that encompasses both outdoor and indoor exploration and creativity. Fortunately, Tahoe Expedition Academy has come to fruition and we are grateful and proud to be a part of this wonderful community.
Shelby Johnson, Teaching Assistant
Shelby Johnson will be co-teaching our first grade classroom with Melanie for the first expedition of this year! She came to Lake Tahoe from the town of Bellingham, Washington where she was a full time student. These 5 months she will be at our school will also be the final step to completing her bachelor’s degree and teaching credential from Western Washington University. Shelby majored in Elementary Education with an emphasis in science, and she specifically loves geology.
While not at TEA, she spends ample amounts of time on the lake, gardening, looking for crystals, drinking large amounts of coffee, and doing yoga. Shelby works hard to maintain a healthy, happy lifestyle, always looking for the next adventure. She spent two summers in Maine teaching rock climbing and guiding children through high ropes course elements. She also spent four years co-teaching pre-school in Washingston State, and six years working in a coffee shop as a barista. Shelby loves her coffee. While most of her experience is with primary aged kiddos, she holds a special place in her heart for Middle School.
Shelby cannot wait to get to know Lake Tahoe, your children, and the whole TEA community better!
Dylan Fitzsimmons, Cognitive Support Services Instructor
Born in the Philippines to parents teaching abroad, Dylan spent much of his childhood traveling. His elementary school years were spent in Saudi Arabia attending international schools with students from all over the world. He has visited a variety of nations across Europe, Africa, and Asia, as well as explored the United States from coast to coast.
Dylan graduated from Canisius College in Buffalo, NY in 2006 with Honors and a dual Bachelor’s in Childhood Education and Special Education. He holds a professional teaching certification in both disciplines and especially enjoys working in small groups or individually with students to reach their educational and personal goals. Dylan has worked in a wide variety of educational settings throughout the years, serving as an environmental educator on the Chesapeake Bay, in public schools, at the Boys and Girls Club of North Lake Tahoe, and most recently as the Prevention Education Coordinator for Tahoe SAFE Alliance. In 2010 he earned his Master’s in Ecological Teaching & Learning from Lesley University, and is excited to have the opportunity to put all of his skills and experience to work for Tahoe Expedition Academy.
In his spare time, Dylan enjoys snowboarding, mountain biking, camping, fishing, and playing guitar. He loves the mountains and the community of North Lake Tahoe, and couldn’t be happier to be a part of the TEA family!
Peter Burtt, Guest Teacher, Music
Long time Kings Beach resident Peter Joseph Burtt is a lifelong drummer and singer/songwriter. His music draws from many sources to inform his music and chronicle the years he spent living and studying with master musicians of Africa. Much of his music is played on traditional instruments, notably the lute like Kora and the Mbira or thumb piano. Songs are also transposed for the guitar.
He was completing a Master of Arts degree at San Francisco State University in creative writing and African drum and folklore when he began looking to cultures that maintain oral histories for connections between rhythm, music, and the spoken word.
Upon learning of the melodious music of the Mbira and the corresponding poetry of the Shona people he traveled first to Zimbabwe, then Ghana and the Gambia, staying long in each place, living and moving within the society of the traditional musician while expanding his own musical vision. To further facilitate a sharing of ideas he worked as a teaching assistant finding he could learn as much from the children as he could from the masters.
His popular local band the KingTide helps bridge these influences back home. He has toured extensively, recorded with award winning artists, and his songs receive national radio airplay. He has taught songwriting, percussion, and guitar at festivals and workshops with many top musicians and instructors.
Brian Collier, Facilities Manager
Bio Coming Soon...
Isabella Maranon, Transportation Manager
Bio Coming Soon...
Media, Articles, Photos and Video Gallery
Tahoe Expedition Academy Upper School Video
Tahoe Expedition Academy 2013 Promo Video Long
"TEA Live on Tahoe TV" - check out TEA head of school Taylor Simmers' tahoe tv interview about TEA.
Fantastic job on 'How to be a Kids Expert on Tahoe WILDfire' Check it out! Several local organizations plan to start carrying it in their visitor centers. Even our Kinder and 1st graders had their own publication! Written and illustrated by them and printed on a local printing press. Be ready to be impressed.
Check it out! Tahoe Expedition Academy (TEA) made a huge commitment to the sport of Biathlon by training and outfitting 13 student athletes, fourth through eighth-grade for the school’s inaugural Biathlon team.
Tahoe Expedition Academy
8651 Speckled Ave. / Box 1272
Kings Beach, CA 96143-1272
(530) 546-LAKE (5253)
We are currently expanding our team at TEA! We are seeking candidates for the following positions:
- Lower School Office Manager
- High School Chemistry Teacher (part-time)
- Director of Admissions
How many children attend and how are the grades structured?
We have nearly 120 students in the 2014-2015 academic year from Prek-10th grade. We are adding a 11th grade for 2015-2016. Currently, our class breakdowns are: PreK, K, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 / 8, 9, 10. We continually reflect upon grade level structures, which may be adjusted in the future in order to provide the best possible learning environment and outcomes for students.
Targeted student-to-teacher ratios are:
- PreK = 7:1
- K-5 = 12-16:1
- 6-12 = 16-20:1
Current school-wide student to teacher ratio is 7:1 overall, which includes all full and part-time faculty.
With low student ratios, we will have one of the most "learner centered" educational programs in the region.
What is the drop off and pick up times for the school?
K-3 grades run from 8:30-2:45, 4th and 5th grades run 8:15-2:45pm. The middle and upper schools run from 8:15-3:00. We provide care for the younger children who are dropped off early and picked up later than their schedule because of older siblings.
Where are you located?
We have two locations. PreK - 5 is located at 8651 Speckled in Kings Beach. Our building backs up to Forest Service property. Middle and Upper School are located at 7000 Latone Ave. Tahoe Vista, CA.
What is Expeditionary Learning?
EL started as a chartered entity of Outward Bound, focused on project-based, hands-on learning in a school environment. They have 165 schools across the nation and 20 years of experience honing their approach to education. EL schools often significantly outperform the district in which they reside and are frequently the top performing schools in the state.
What can you tell me about the curriculum?
Tahoe Expedition Academy offers a skills-rich, project-based curriculum that is developmentally appropriate. Instructional content and practicum is based on Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Math, Next Generation Standards for Science as well as California state standards for the humanities. As an independent school, Tahoe Expedition has taken the liberty to create thoughtful programs that put theory into practice.
Kindergarten through Second Grade students work in an environment that is rich in literacy, numeracy and play. Kindergartners are held to a high academic standard, but are allowed the freedom that is necessary to be industrious and identify with themselves as individuals. While Kindergartners are exposed to core knowledge in a semi-informal setting, First and Second Grade students practice a standardized math and language arts curriculum that is complemented by a variety of experiential and adventure education opportunities which address concepts that relate to science, social studies, art and music as well as mental health and well being.
Formalization of instruction occurs when students reach Third Grade. As was true with the Kindergarten through Second Grade, math and language arts are formalized. Experiential education and field studies are in abundance and homework is not a staple, but the level of academic rigor during the school day is stepped up significantly.
Fourth and Fifth Grade provides students with the opportunity to test their own boundaries and assume a greater level of responsibility for their actions. Students participate in overnight backcountry trips and collaborate with older students on the development of community service projects.
Middle School students work in an intense environment of trust that allows them to push their intellectual and physical boundaries. Proficiency in mathematics is emphasized. Although students were exposed to high quality literature in the lower grades, Sixth through Eighth Grade students are introduced to titles and genres that excite their minds and allow them to identify and communicate their individual interests and beliefs. The student-centered, student-guided approach that was used in the lower grades continues to be the pedagogical modus operandi. Here the environment of play is replaced by intentional risk taking that facilitates the realization of each student’s potential. Curricular expectations require the completion of a reasonable amount of homework.
Upper School students work in a collaborative, highly academic and hands-on setting. Their instructors are experts in their field, proven educators and passionate individuals who bring adventure and authentic, project-based learning to their students. As with our PreK-8 curriculum, our teachers derive the lessons, activities and projects from standards, yet they have the creative license to design relevant, engaging and purposeful academic work for our students. Upper School students can be expected to conduct a significant amount of extended field studies locally, nationally, and, in their older years, internationally.
Will you be offering enrichment classes?
Yes, we offer Art and Music to all students in PreK-10. Additional electives are offered throughout the year to relevant grade levels.
Will there be homework?
Students in grades PreK-6, our Lower School, typically have a limited amount of schoolwork each night. They focus on reading, either with an adult or independently, math, vocabulary and spelling. Students in the Middle and Upper School will invariably have academic work to complete at home, though time amounts vary depending on their level of productivity in school and the Learning Expedition and projects / products students are working on at a given time. On average students in Middle and Upper School can expect 6-10 hours of academic work at home each week.
It is important to note, however, that the overall goal for students is to use time in school effectively, and we have placed structures in school that allow for students to complete work with support of their Crew Leaders and teachers. Philosophically, we believe time in school is meant to do school work, and time outside of school should be primarily reserved and utilized for clubs, athletics, play, personal interests and spending time with family and friends. If a student has difficulty managing the amount of academic work at home, then the student and/or family may present this issue to the Crew Leader and/or Dean of Students, who will work to find a resolution.
How do you handle technology in the classroom?
We encourage our students to be confident and skilled with the use of technology, and our project-based curriculum promotes interaction with computer-based technology while performing research, collecting and analyzing data, composing written works, delivering presentations and the creating of art. Other forms of technology are integrated into the curriculum in the form of models and tools, both scientific and otherwise. Moreover, students design and create real products, like apps and videos, that utilize technology and computer science and facilitate their understanding of this subject area.
What about PE?
In addition to a curriculum that naturally brings in physical education through interaction with the outdoors, traditional PE classes are offered during the school day. Further, we have athletic teams and After-School Clubs that involve physical activity such as mountain biking, archery, yoga, karate and lacrosse as well as a Ski Local Program in the winter that encourages skiing or snowboarding.
Do you have some examples of types of Expeditions other EL programs have done?
Yes. We definitely do. You can see examples here.
What program do you use for math?
We use Bridges for K-5 and College Preparatory Mathematics for grades 6-10. Throughout grade levels, mathematics is also applied to the Learning Expeditions in order to provide hands-on engagement with the subject matter.
How would you define yourself?
We are an independent, PreK-10th grade Expeditionary Learning school which focuses on the practical application of content and skills in project-based learning environment. Tahoe Expedition Academy does not believe that primary learning comes only from a textbook. We do not teach to the test; rather, we teach to character and real-life applications of academics. We prepare students in an entrepreneurial spirit so that they can become innovators in tomorrow’s world.
Why didn't you become a public charter school?
We explored the opportunity to become a public charter through Washoe County. Given all of the IB debate, they were not interested in taking on a charter school at this time. Plus, with 25% cutbacks coming in the state of Nevada, it would have been difficult to accomplish on a budgetary standpoint.
I understand that there is an Expeditionary Learning public charter school in Truckee. How are you related to them?
Yes, there is Sierra Expeditionary Learning School in Truckee. While it runs independently, it is part of TTUSD and requires students to participate in a lottery to attend. It is so popular that there were 400+ kids left on the wait list from last year's lottery. They have great teachers and are doing some wonderful things. Like SELS, we are a member of Expeditionary Learning, a national organization.
My child is struggling as an emerging reader. How do you handle that?
We have an amazing team of resource specialists within our school. The team has extensive experience assessing, identifying, counseling and recommending different learning styles.
Why did you decide to use Expeditionary Learning as your educational approach?
We did an in-depth analysis of different programs in relation to key factors, including, but not limited to, approach to learning, experience in the field, test scores, scalability, and appropriateness to the area. We are in 100% agreement that EL is the right direction for us for our K-8 grade levels.
How do you handle student behavior and discipline?
We expect respectful and appropriate behavior from our students, parents and teachers. We are proactive about discipline and behavior by teaching Character Values on a daily basis and maintaining high expectations for all members of our CommuniTEA. If behavior becomes a problem from students, we have a clear set of consequences, as outlined in our CommuniTEA Handbook, which is updated each year and signed by each student and family.
Will my child be going on Adventure Education trips?
Absolutely! We believe that Adventure Education is key to a child's experiential education and take advantage of excellent opportunities to expand our student's knowledge through trips away from the classroom environment. This is not a comprehensive list, but should give you an idea of potential off-site field studies:
- Kindergarten and First Grade: Taylor Creek, Animal Ark, Chickadee Ridge, Spooner Lake & Tyrolean Beaver Ponds
- Second Grade and Third Grade: Wilbur May Museum, Sand Harbor, Truckee River Oxbow, Lahontan Fish Hatchery & Grover Hot Springs
- Fourth Grade and Fifth Grade: Chaw Se – Indian Grinding Rock State Historic Park, Yosemite – Saddlebag Lake, Brockway Summit – Tahoe Rim Trail, Donner Memorial and Summit & Nevada Museum of Art
- Middle School: Squaw Valley USA, Tahoe Rim Trail & San Franciscoo
- Upper School: Panama, Black Rock Desert & Santa Cruz Mountains and Coastline
What is the admissions process?
Admission to TEA is open to students PreK through 11th grade for 2015-2016. Please click HERE for more details on our Admissions Process. Our primary admissions goal is to have a robust student body that is eager and able to achieve academically in an experiential learning environment.
How can I get my child on the admissions list or to learn more?
To begin the admissions process, visit the Admissions page and complete the Inquiry Form. The Admissions process is outlined step-by-step on the Admissions page. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org with questions.
How much is the tuition?
- PreK 3 year olds (Tuesday and Thursdays) $6,090
- PreK 4 year olds (Monday, Wednesday and Friday) $9,135
- Kindergarten through 8th grade - $15,225
- 9th through 12th grade $20,475
Do you have any scholarships?
Yes. Financial assistance is available for students entering 1st to 12th Grade. Award is based on financial need. Applicants can be awarded up to 50% of tuition. We work with School and Student Services to process financial aid application. If interested, you can complete an application at http://sssbynais.org/parents/apply for a nominal fee of $45.
After completion of admissions application and scholarship application, the Committee will make a determination based on recommendation from SSS as well funding availability and other internal metrics.
How do I reserve a spot for my child?
Once the application process is complete and your child is accepted into Tahoe Expedition, we require a non-refundable deposit of 15%. Please go here for more details on our Admissions Process.
Are you a non-profit?
Yes, we are a 501(c)3 non-profit. All donations to our school are tax-deductible. Our Tax ID# is 27-5379571.
Will you be doing standardized testing?
Students in grades 4-8 will participate in Terra Nova CTB Testing, which is given by the McGraw Hill and is a nationally recognized assessment that is aligned with the Common Core State Standards. In addition to giving us another metric for gauging the progress of our students, this test allows us to compare the performance of our students nationally against other schools.
With all of the outdoor outings that the children participate in, are there any staff that have their 1st Responder, W-EMT or woofer for medical in case there is an accident?
Risk management is a major concern for us. We have at least one Trip Leader with a WFR (Wilderness First Responder) on each outing. All trips have a pre-visit reconnaissance so that risks can be identified and venue specific itineraries can be developed. We have emergency and evacuation plans for backcountry trips and focus on the ability to maintain communication. As sometimes we do not have cell service, we carry a satellite phone.
Will you have after school ski programs with the local ski areas?
Our students are shuttled to both Northstar and to Diamond Peak on Thursday afternoon ski days. Students not wanting to ski are also welcome to stay at school for enrichment activities or participate in ski teams at their own resorts. Additionally, the Upper School has a Varsity Ski Team that competes in the California Nevada Interscholastic Ski and Snowboard Federation.
Will my child be given grades?
TEA practices Mastery-Based or Standards-Based grading to assess, evaluate and report on each student’s academic progress, growth and performance. Mastery based assessment is rapidly being recognized as best practice in education and we are proud to be at the forefront of this movement. We use JumpRope, a cloud based numeric grading and reporting system, to archive and communicate each student’s academic achievement over the course of the semester and year. Mastery-Based grading uses a 1 to 4 scale, where a 1 equals emerging and 4 equals mastery. These grade reports are available online in real time throughout the year and are sent home to families at the end of each quarter.
Board of Trustees
- Advisory Committees
- Board Advisors
TEA Board Member Biographies
Kenneth R. Martin, Chair
Ken’s professional experience includes five years in large company operations, which included the supervision of 74 personnel in a 24-hour operating environment, 18 years in real estate investment and management, and 14 years as a United Stated Army Reserve logistics officer including platoon leader, detachment commander, and staff positions. Ken earned a Bachelor of Engineering from Vanderbilt University and a Masters of Business Administration from the UHCL (University of Houston – Clear Lake) He is also a graduate of the United States Army Airborne school. He has also held various roles on nonprofit boards including president of two boards. Ken previously served as a home school teacher for his son, Mitchell, now a 10th grader at TEA. Ken’s goal as a board member is to build structures and systems that enhance the collaborative climate for the TEA in order to achieve a sustainable steady state and execute the school’s mission for the long term. In his free time, Ken enjoys singing, hiking, skiing, and mountain biking.
Brandon Chaney, Acting Vice Chair, Treasurer
Brandon spent a large part of his career as founder and CEO of Telekenex, an innovative cloud services company. Telekenex became a facilities-based public utility company in the states of California and Nevada and built a state-of-the-art national fiber-based network. Brandon sold Telekenex in 2014. Currently, Brandon is serving on the boards of the Cal Neva Resort, Spa and Casino and Incroud, a social multi-media platform. He is also an honorary sergeant with the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office. Brandon earned a BS in Business/Finance at Indiana University and attended Purdue University’s Study Abroad Program. He achieved the rank of Eagle Scout in Boy Scouts of America while in high school. Brandon’s goal as a board member of TEA is to leverage his business experience to help the school grow and thrive financially. In his free time, Brandon runs in Ironman competitions, boats, and snowboards. He has a love of travel and history.
Jennifer Frechette-Caron, Secretary
Jennifer has over 12 years of experience in brand marketing, research, product analysis, finance, and new product launches with General Motors’ in the startup Alternative Fuels Division. During her tenure at GM, Jennifer worked with multiple State Representatives, Government decision makers, members of Congress and other dignitaries as well as the Salt Lake City Olympics committee to establish alternative fuels into the mainstream. Additionally, Jennifer has over ten years of medical and medical device sales, management, product launches and marketing experience with Glaxo Smith Kline Pharmaceuticals, the startup company; CCS Medical and working with Medtronic, and Stryker device corporations. Other achievements include participation in a leadership training program at GM and on advisory, business development, and leadership training committees at both Glaxo Smith Kline and CCS Medical. Jennifer also received Excellence in Sales and Rookie of the Year awards during her career. Jennifer has a Bachelor of Science in Finance and Marketing and is three-quarters way through her MBA program starting at Oakland University, MI and completing recent MBA classes from the Wharton School. Her goal as a TEA board member is to apply her experience in both structured and startup environments, from operations to vision to big picture strategies. She strongly believes in TEA’s vision and hopes to help the school reach its true potential. In her free time, Jennifer runs, cycles, skis, hikes and plays golf and tennis. She has a true love of exploring, learning, and experiencing life fully. She lives in Truckee, CA with her husband, Brian, and sons Holden, 6 and Gavin, 8.
Mark’s work experience includes five years at the United States Forest Service as a hydrologic technician and 14 years in construction, real estate investment, and property management. Mark was also a Nepal Trust volunteer where he ran treks, assisted with a micro hydro project, and conducted a district health survey. He has been on the board of the Bodhi Tree Foundation since 2006. Mark earned a B.S. in Forestry – Resource Conservation from the University of Montana. His goal as a TEA board member is to establish a school that can stand the test of time. Mark enjoys tele skiing, mountain biking, golfing, climbing, and traveling. One of his claims to fame is that he built a cabin from the ground up.
Taylor Simmers, Founder
Taylor is Tahoe Expedition Academy’s Chief Academic Officer, 7th/8th Grade Crew Leader, and co-founder. Since 1995, Taylor has worked with students in K through 12th grade in a variety of locations and types of schools across the country. He has taught, coached, designed curriculum, led outdoor education programs and served as a school administrator. Since 2004, Taylor has lived and taught in Lake Tahoe and developed an appreciation for and an understanding of the developmental needs of students in their formative years. Taylor has a B.A. in English from Princeton and a Masters in Education from Brown University. As an educator, Taylor believes authentic products, meaningful academics, and outdoor experiences create long lasting knowledge and important skills for children. To help start a school that combines these educational components has been a dream come true. For the past ten years, Taylor has guided adventure-based trips for students throughout the American West, where he currently enjoys backcountry skiing, mountain biking and climbing on his own time. Taylor lives in Incline Village, Nevada with his wife and son, Sully.
Gina brings to the board a wealth of professional experience in a variety of community development roles. She worked as Community Benefits Manager at El Camino Hospital Foundation and as Director of Community Programs at the Entrepreneurs Foundation (now Silicon Valley Community Foundation). Gina has a B.S. from San Jose State University and a Masters in Public Administration from San Francisco State University. She has served on numerous boards including Tahoe Connection for Families, Tahoe Women’s Services, Mountain View RotaCare Free Medical Clinic, and the San Jose State College of Business Alumni Association. Gina and her husband, Brian have two sons, Nathan in 5th grade and Andrew in 2nd grade. Gina’s goals as a TEA board member are to contribute to the great work already being done by the Board of Trustees, faculty and staff and to use her non-profit expertise to assist with the implementation of TEA's mission.
Charles Clark, Head of school, TEA Advisory Committee
Charlie, Head Master at TEA, has 29 years of experience as a school head at a wide range of independent schools—from startups to established, traditional to progressive, small to large, elementary to high school and boarding. He has a proven track record of success in annual fundraising, capital campaigns, growing student bodies, creating strategic plans, and developing thriving school communities. Most recently, Charlie was the founding Head of School at a startup international boarding high school, the CATS Academy Boston. Charlie shares TEA's philosophy of inspiring students to learn by doing. He is a strong advocate for student-centered learning, which he has embraced at every school where he has worked. He is excited to be a part of and enhance a community based on TEA's core values and character virtues. Charlie's goal is to help TEA further develop the essential structures and systems necessary to build an exceptional school. He is committed to helping create an organization where TEA’s educators will thrive and focus their talents and enthusiasm on the students and the curriculum. Charlie is married to Gail Clark (also a lifelong educator); they have three children and nine grandchildren.
Shelley Bolen, TEA Association of Parents Representative(TAP), TEA Advisory Committee
Shelley is a realtor with Tahoe Luxury Properties and owner of Bolen Management and Design. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree from Boston College. Shelley has been volunteering with TEA before its doors opened, helping with construction details of the school, serving as a room parent, spearheading the Dine in Day lunch program, co-founding and leading the Cooking Club after school program, and creating the Expeditionary Learning component at each of TEA's Spring Soirées. Most recently, Shelley has taken on the role of President of TEA's newly formed Parent Association (PA) and has been at the helm in developing it. As a board member, Shelley serves as liaison between the PA and Board of Trustees, representing the interests of both the PA and TEA’s community of parents. She brings to both positions personal experience and knowledge as a long-standing, involved parent. She hopes to strengthen the leadership and functionality of the board through communication, collaboration, respect, and positivity. Her vision is for the board is to embody TEA’s mission and values as it works in the best interest of its students. Shelley, who is married with two children, Nina, 9, and Pierce, 6, is a runner and skate skier. She has qualified for the Boston Marathon and completed the Tahoe City to Truckee Great Ski Race several times. Her passions include leading her daughter’s Girl Scout troop, yoga, and playing the piano.