Connecting Real World Experiences with Best In Class Academics
We describe our Tahoe High School program as an expedition-based learning experience. We start with a solid academic foundation that rivals the best private schools in the country. Next, we move our students beyond traditional classrooms with a hands-on, project-based approach. We focus on fun and engaging problem-solving challenges – called Learning Expeditions – that extend the definition of a classroom out to the real world. It’s much, much more than occasional field trips or travel-abroad programs. Our High School students spend 30+ days in the field, actively engaging with experts on incredible projects and adventures that challenge them in unexpected ways. What are the benefits of our approach? Scroll through our 7 learner outcomes below to see.
Fluency in STEAM
In order to be prepared for the future professions, TEA students develop an understanding of the fundamentals of “STEAM” (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics). With the help of teachers and experts and the engagement with a STEAM heavy curriculum, students learn how to produce usable scientific data, develop a creative mindset, understand the design process to solve problems systematically, gain a solid grasp of fundamental math concepts and skills, and comprehend the interdisciplinary nature of these subject areas.
Critical Thinking, Persuasive Communication Skills and Multimedia Know how
Critical thinking is fostered throughout core and enrichment subjects alike, as students are empowered to ask why, to question everything and to make educated, thoughtful choices in their lives. To provide students with the foundations they need to express their thoughts and opinions, rigorous coursework in the humanities, including literature, reading, creative writing, art and music, help students learn powerful storytelling and narrative techniques that serve them well in any field of study. Students also learn how to speak well before a wide range of audiences and to produce a variety of multimedia content in order to share their messages beyond the school walls and to have larger impact on the world.
Multicultural Understanding of History, Creativity and Action in the Arts and Humanities
By gaining a solid liberal arts education in history, arts and the humanities, students are able to recognize global trends patterns, comprehend diverse perspectives and acquire a clear sense of where humans have come from as a species. From geography to history to economics to foreign language to the arts, students become well-versed in social, artistic, political, economic, religious, geographic, environmental and ethical constructs. A sound understanding in these intellectual areas informs their interactions with the world and enables them to take direct action to create authentic products and inspires them to engage with and advocate for other human beings through service and real world work.
Strength of Character
Character development and leadership training are important elements for academic achievement, social emotional learning and ethical development. At TEA, “We are crew, not passengers, who do good for ourselves and for others.” Each student is a member of a crew, which are small, supportive groups, where each student is known well and engages in the proactive cultivation of character and leadership. In Crew, students learn how to meet adversity head on and have the courage to “survive and thrive” when things get tough and when more than book smarts are required. Through ongoing and integrated adventure, service and fieldwork, students learn how to calculate and manage risk and show resilience.
Citizenship and Service
At TEA, citizenship, service and ‘doing good’ are not add ons or afterthoughts, but are embedded into all facets of the program and ingrained in daily school life. Truly, TEA students learn how to show compassion and empathy, to become stewards of the land and to advocate for themselves as well as others in their own back yards and beyond.
World View and Appreciation for the Natural World
TEA students are experts in adventure, fieldwork and learning by doing. By spending 20-30 days and nights in the field each year on multiple day and overnight trips, TEA students gain comfort and connectivity with diverse people and societies, the world around them and the ability to navigate it. They work with industry experts and professionals in real world work and tackle real world problems in the process. By traveling locally, regionally, nationally and internationally, students gain the benefits of having a firsthand understanding of the world, gaining a deep understanding of subject matter and learning what to do when things go wrong, as much as when things go right.
Creative Problem Solvers
To create solutions for real world problems, students engage with projects and courses of study that enable them to think critically and work outside of the classroom walls. By doing the work of professionals alongside industry experts and by applying their learning in meaningful ways, students learn how to apply, synthesize, evaluate and create. Over the course of their study, TEA students develop a strong portfolio of work that shows what they are capable of doing – something that will serve them well for college and beyond. As importantly, students develop a growth mindset when approaching complex issues, develop lasting understanding of content and skills and become the kinds of individuals who embrace challenges head on and who can overcome adversity with both grace and humility.
Making a Positive Impact in the World
In the fall of 2016, the senior class of Tahoe Expedition Academy was asked to design a class service trip on their own. As a crew, they decided that with the turmoil in the Middle East and the refugee crisis in Europe, they would travel to Greece to volunteer with PRAKSIS, a non governmental organization that provides social and medical services for refugees. The goal of the trip was to understand and help refugees forced to flee their own country to find safety elsewhere.
At the culmination their Learning Expedition titled “Move, Adapt, or Die: The Life and Times of a Syrian Refugee,” students produced this short documentary film, which illustrates the challenges of current Syrian refugees in Greece. They also created a Facebook page to spread awareness of the plight of refugees in Greece and to support the PRAKSIS aid organization and all of the volunteers they met along the way. If you are interested in supporting PRAKSIS, their donation portal is here with details on how your support would be used.
HIGH SCHOOL ACADEMIC PROGRAMMING - FOUNDATIONS COURSES
These classes are directly aligned with National Standards for the core content areas (Math, Science, History, English). These classes include individually-paced opportunities as well as one-on-one and small group instruction. Teachers target specific skills within these classes to support Learning Expeditions through foundational class content. These courses are integrated into the Learning Expeditions and taught with a two-year looping cycle.
9th and 10th Grade Courses
9th and 10th grade students will participate in the following courses: Physical Science, Math (students will be placed into a math class based on their previous math course. On the first day of school, students will complete a baseline test to ensure they are in the appropriate course), Human Geography, English Literature and Composition.
11th and 12th Grade Courses
11th and 12th grade students will participate in the following courses: Applied Physics & Engineering, Math (students will be placed into a math class based on their previous math course. On the first day of school, students will complete a baseline test to ensure they are in the appropriate course), U.S. Government and English (Creative Fiction & Nonfiction Writing)
LICCS (Life in College & Career Seminar)
These are required, age and developmentally-appropriate life and college skills seminars aimed at preparing students for succeeding beyond high school. Parent and community members will be tapped as experts and facilitators of LICCS, but each seminar series will be directed by TEA faculty. Seminar examples include, but are not limited to: health education, PSAT-SAT-ACT test prep, writing conventions (MLA, APA, etc.), social media safety, college counseling and career planning, budgeting and personal finance.
These courses are an essential component of both student choice and academic support. Intensives are courses lasting from five to eight days in which students are engaged in either an in-depth study of a topic or intensive academic support. They are offered at the end of the fall semester so that students failing one or more courses have the opportunity and support to complete their work. Students passing all courses choose from a menu of multi-grade level intensives.
Semester-long, interdisciplinary curricula that use a topical lens and specific case studies to explore content in depth and engage with real-world learning, problem solving and skills development.
Individual Senior Expeditions
Students in 12th grade create and pursue their own integrated course of study during the last semester of their senior year called the Senior +Impact Study, which tackles a real-world problem. This long-term academic endeavor can involve international travel, language acquisition and volunteerism or other opportunities within respectable and faculty-approved boundaries and is intended to provide students with an opportunity to demonstrate what they are capable of doing and producing to have a positive impact on their lives and the world. The student’s Crew Leader serves as a point person and mentor for this capstone project, which is required for graduation.
Field Studies, Experts and Service
Learning Expeditions embed and integrate field studies, experts and service learning into a larger curriculum unit. Beyond the classroom walls, students engage in acts of service, locally, nationally and globally. During field studies, they collaborate with local organizations, engage with relevant experts and contribute to their community through entrepreneurship and volunteerism. By giving and intentionally directing their efforts, intellect and resources to where it can benefit the greater good, students become active citizens in their communities. Advisors and teachers guide students through this process during their school career, which culminates with a Senior Project.
The Elective Program extends learning beyond the core subject areas and provides opportunities for students to express creativity, to develop artistic skills and to bolster their confidence in the arts, music and design. The elective courses within this program give students the resources and instruction to develop as visual and performing artists. Collectively, the elective program awards students with opportunities to produce authentic work collaboratively and independently, to engage with experts and professionals in this field and to present their work before authentic audiences. Throughout the school year, student performances and art are exhibited and appreciated broadly in Tahoe area communities.
Weekly opportunities for students to leave campus and pursue topics and activities of their choice. These learning opportunities include: Externships (require establishing a mentor outside of TEA for a specific opportunity (i.e., High Fives Foundation)), Internships (require establishing a mentor within TEA for a specific opportunity (i.e., Teacher’s Assistant)), and Trainings ( Classes and trainings outside of school that allow students to learn specific skills (i.e., WFR, pilot license, boat captain licensure, etc.))
MEET OUR AMAZING HIGH SCHOOL TEACHERS
Our faculty and staff empower students to question, think, explore and lead. Relationships between our students and teachers are paramount to creating a community of care, service, and commitment. To learn more about our faculty and staff please click below. In addition to “crew-specific” teachers, we have a dedicated music, art and student support staff for our High School students.
Laird R. Blackwell
Nilo Bill | Math and Science Teacher
Having received his Ph.D. from Oregon State University in geology and climatology after receiving his undergraduate degree from University of Miami, earning a triple major in Geology, Anthropology, and International Studies, Nilo draws from a diverse array of academic disciplines. The pursuit of knowledge has brought Nilo to do fieldwork all over the world, from Antarctica to Alaska. Recently, being named a National Geographic Explorer allowed him to work on solutions to climate change problems in the country of Iceland. This early work of Nilo’s has culminated in several publications in scholarly journals including in Earth and Planetary Science Letters, as well as a coauthor on a high-school level textbook titled The Himalayas: An Encyclopedia of Geography, History, and Culture. If you walk into Nilo’s classroom you will likely find students engaged in hypothesis driven science or discussions surrounding scientific epistemology, or, how scientists know what they know. Nilo believes that an eye toward his students’ future is important while maintaining a healthy dose of fun and adrenaline along the way. To Nilo, no matter where he is in the field with his students there is an outdoor lesson in natural science waiting to be unleashed. The real world provides the most interesting and useful problems to solve, and that is where Nilo’s classes always begin. If he is not talking about science with his students, Nilo is likely comparing notes with students on ski conditions, best Tahoe ski runs and plans of attack for upcoming powder days.
What inspired you to join TEA? Creating students that are the best versions of themselves. Being able to not only teach students science and math in ways that excite me, but mentoring them into proto-adulthood.
Where did you go to school? Oregon State University, Ph.D., Geology
Do you have any special certifications? NOLS Wilderness First Responder
What is something that not everyone knows about you, but probably should? I love bluegrass music and play guitar and banjo.
Michaela Fooksa | High School Math and Science Teacher
Michaela has been slowing making her way west her whole life. She was born in Boston and received her BA in Mathematics from Colgate University, where she led a math tutoring group at a local high school. She then moved to Nashville, Tennessee to work in a computational biology lab and receive her MS in Chemical and Physical Biology at Vanderbilt University. The next stop was Lake Tahoe, where she fell in love with the unending outdoor activities and the natural beauty and tranquility of the Sierras. Michaela has studied and done research in Math, Physics, Computer Science, Chemistry, and Biology, and she is excited to be able to share her interdisciplinary background as a math and physics teacher. In her free time, Michaela enjoys trail running, backpacking, skiing, swimming, yoga, reading, and country music.
What inspired you to join TEA? Learning through real-world experiences not only cements lessons in students’ minds, but it also allows freedom and creativity to connect classroom experiences to real-life problems. I am excited to help show all that nature has to teach us and to inspire people to connect with and protect the natural world.
Where did you go to school? Colgate University, BA in Mathematics, Vanderbilt University, MS in Chemical and Physical Biology with a concentration in Molecular Biophysics
Do you have any special certifications? Member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, fluent in Czech
What is something that not everyone knows about you, but probably should? I spent six months studying intensive statistical theory in Cape Town, South Africa, where I also took a course in African drumming and competed on the university’s swim team.
Zach Neater | High School Humanities Teacher
Zach Neater grew up immersed in experiential education. As a kid in Cincinnati, Zach attended one of the first Montessori schools to offer K-6 education. He continued to water the seed of constructivism in high school at the School for Creative and Performing Arts where his love for writing took root. Zach’s passion for expeditionary education was fostered further as he traveled extensively, even living abroad as an exchange student in Norway.
What inspired you to join TEA? The passion of both the staff and students for experimental education.
Where did you go to school? Ohio University, B.S.Ed, Education
Do you have any special certifications? Professional Teaching Licenses in Ohio and Colorado
What is something that not everyone knows about you, but probably should? I cry when dogs die in the movies.
Laird R. Blackwell | ELA/Humanities Learning Intensive Instructor
Laird was Full Professor at Sierra Nevada College for 31 years, teaching numerous courses in psychology and literature, and was Chairman of the Humanities Department for 18 of those years. He has led wildflower field classes for over 40 years and has written several wildflower field guides for Tahoe, California, the Great Basin, and Mount Rainier in the Cascades. In the last couple years he has authored two critical analyses of Classic Detective fiction with a third to be published soon. He has also written two children’s books about Wandering Daisy and her quest to discover herself, which are currently waiting for the illustrations to be completed.
After retiring from Sierra Nevada College, Laird has taught part-time at TEA for the last six years joining several of his ex-college students on the faculty. He is currently teaching Intensives in “Brain and Mind” and “The Animal-Human Connection.” He lives with his wife Melinda and a menagerie of horses, alpaca, llama, goats, miniature donkey, dogs, and cats on a small ranch in Washoe Valley, where he and Melinda provide equine-assisted learning experiences for corporate groups and at-risk kids.
For his 70th birthday, he fulfilled a life-time dream of hiking the Incan trail with a local guide into Machu Picchu, and this year he fulfilled another dream by seeing the 30,000 year-old paintings and carvings in the Paleolithic caves in France.
What inspired you to join TEA? The focus on character and adventure as well as academics, and the philosophy of “crew not passenger.” I am confident that our graduates are and will continue to be responsible and active citizens, advocates of diversity and human dignity, and champions of healthy interdependence with the natural, social, and political environments. They will also be passionate and enthusiastic life-long learners who take responsibility for their beliefs, values, and actions.
Where did you go to school? Stanford University, PhD, Psychology and Education
What is something that not everyone knows about you, but probably should? My best friend in Junior HIgh School in Ann Arbor, Michigan, was Bob Seger, and I’ve been fortunate enough to meet and talk with Barack Obama and Willie Mays.
Merinda Zywicz | Spanish Teacher
Merinda is from California and grew up spending time exploring and playing in the Sierras. She studied International Development with a focus on Latin America and Political Ecology. Her studies focused on trying to find solutions that balance the social, environmental and economic needs of the world, which makes her very excited to be at TEA where students grapple with those problems regularly. She has spent time working with non-profits that tackle these challenges in Ecuador, Chile and Costa Rica.
Prior to working at TEA, Merinda worked as a ski instructor and naturalist in Tahoe. These jobs helped her realize her passion for teaching kids in settings where they are empowered to learn through their own experiences and pursue their curiosities. Merinda also spent a year in Madrid, Spain where she studied Spanish and worked as an au pair to foster language acquisition for the three young girls in the family.
Teaching Spanish at TEA is a culmination of many of Merinda’s personal interest and she is excited to share her passion for the value of language with the students. Outside of TEA Merinda loves to ski, run, climb, bike and generally take advantage of the outdoor opportunities in Tahoe.
What inspired you to join TEA? TEA’s approach towards framing learning as a way of tackling real world problems as well as their acknowledgment of the value of learning through experiences.
Where did you go to school? University of California Berkeley, Bachelors in International Development with a focus on Political Ecology in Latin America
What is something that not everyone knows about you, but probably should? I have skied in more countries than states.
John Considine | TEA Films Program Instructor
John Considine attended Penn State University where he studied Film and Television Production. While attending school, John worked as a freelance cinematographer for FUEL TV and The Big Ten Network, covering live sporting events and Reality TV shows.
After college, John moved to South Lake Tahoe, CA to film and ski in the beautiful Sierra Nevada Mountains. He began working with Deep Roots Media and Cory Rich Productions as both a Camera Operator and Editor. John has also traveled the world as an editor and guest mentor for Nikon’s Mentor Series. John also worked as Producer /Director/Editor for the Docu/reality series “The Line” for Deerfield Media.
Currently, John is running Considine Media with clients including Red Bull and Vail Resorts. He enjoys living in the mountains with his wife and dog as well as traveling to see new places.
What inspired you to join TEA? The ability to teach and learn real-life skills.
Where did you go to school? Penn State University, Media Studies/ Film and Television Production
Do you have any special certifications? 2017 Telly Award-winning Director for General TV Biography
What is something that not everyone knows about you, but probably should? I was on once the back of 16 million Lunchable’s boxes.
Charlotte Semmes | Art Teacher
Charlotte was born and raised in Maryland, outside of Washington D.C. She studied Fine Arts and Anthropology at Skidmore College in upstate New York. Directly following her graduation in 2004, she took a cross-country road trip with her best friend, eventually landing in San Francisco. There she pursued her longtime passion of working in textile and apparel industries while intermittently traveling and volunteering with youth in the visual arts. In 2011, Charlotte received a teaching fellowship in a newly evolved Design research program at UC Davis where she completed her MFA in Textiles. Realizing the joy she found working one-on-one with students, she acquired her California teaching credential in Art. She trained at a Waldorf-inspired high school in Sacramento and taught for one year in the Central Valley before joining her husband in Truckee.
What inspired you to join TEA? The focus on experiential and exploratory education. This is how I always learned best so I’m proud to be working at school who values this.
Where did you go to school? MFA in Design, UC Davis; Bachelors in Fine Arts, Skidmore College; Sac State teaching credential Art K-12
What is something that not everyone knows about you, but probably should? I have a baby named Penelope who was born on Christmas Eve, and I started a business designing baby blankets and clothing when she was born www.penelopeprints.com
Katy Kimple | Middle and High School Student Success Specialist
Katy graduated from SUNY Cortland in 2011 with a degree in Therapeutic Recreation became a nationally certified Recreational Specialist in 2012. Katy spent her first three years out of college working as a wilderness therapy instructor and found Lake Tahoe along the way. After moving to Tahoe, Katy has worked in many positions assisting people of all abilities and disabilities. She started a community integration program for adults with developmental disabilities in Truckee and South Lake Tahoe and then transitioned into working for Achieve Tahoe. Katy found her passion for teaching while working at Sierra Nevada College in Incline Village. Katy worked for three years as an Outdoor Adventure Leadership professor. Finding that taking students into the wilderness and out of their comfort zone was still a passion of hers. Most recently, Katy utilized her background in disabilities while working at Sierra Mental Wellness Group in social work.
What inspired you to join the TEAm? I believe that every child should have the opportunity to learn and grow in the outdoors and TEA does exactly that, creates growth through adversity.
Where did you go to school? State University of New York at Cortland, Therapeutic Recreation, BS in Science
Do you have any special certifications?Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist, WFR, ASIST, and Know the Signs trainer
What is something that not everyone knows about you, but probably should?Backpacking is my jam…I’ve through hikes the Camino de Santiago in Spain and about 3/4 of the way through the Appalachian Trail.
Laura Quarin | Middle and High School Instructional Guide / Student Success Provider / High School History Teacher
Though originally from Canada, Laura’s love of exploration and travel have taken her all over the world. Laura has been fortunate to live and work in Canada, Australia, Panama, Egypt and now the United States. She has taught a variety of academic subjects, served as an athletic director in two different countries, worked as the humanities specialist and principal at a small school outside of Vancouver, British Columbia, and had an incredible first year at TEA as the Middle and High School Student Support teacher. Through Laura’s experience in various educational contexts, she has developed a passion for facilitating opportunities for young people to learn and grow in ways that inspire them. Her experience has taught her that given the right levels of engaging content, emotional support and academic challenge, all students can grow toward their own unique potential. Laura is a lifelong learner who follows her curiosity into historical non-fiction, through travel to new places and into the mountains as often as possible. She is grateful to have the opportunity to continue living out her passion for actively exploring the outdoors in the beautiful Tahoe area. Laura is in awe of the positivity of the entire TEA community and loves being a part of it.
What inspired you to join TEA? The incredible level of growth I’ve witnessed TEA students experience, both in their academic depth and character development, as a result of their emersion in real-world constructive adversity, is absolutely astounding.
Where did you go to school? Brock University – Bachelor of Kinesiology/minor in History; University of Wollongong – Diploma of Education; Western Kentucky University – Masters of Science in Athletic Administration
What is something that not everyone knows about you, but probably should? Laura has summited three of the highest peaks on the African continent: Mount Kilimanjaro, Mount Kenya, and Mount Meru.
Mara Jenkins | Middle & High School Director / Dean of Students / 11&12 Crew Leader
Mara Jenkins was born and raised in Oregon. Whether it was skiing Mt. Hood, traveling the world with her family, hiking the Pacific Northwest or camping up and down the West coast, Mara spent her childhood taking advantage of the beautiful world around her. Mara attended the University of Oregon to earn a Bachelor of Arts in History. After graduating, she moved to Tahoe and enrolled at Sierra Nevada College where she earned her teaching credential in secondary social studies as well as a Master of Art in Teaching. Her master’s thesis focused on using primary and secondary sources to teach about social injustices throughout history. Mara is passionate about connecting history to current events and sharing the passion for learning that she enjoys with her students. Mara has worked in a variety of settings with students ranging in levels from Kindergarten through University. In 2016, Mara joined the faculty at Tahoe Expedition Academy and has been the high school history teacher, 11/12th grade crew leader, Dean of Students, and Middle School and High School Director. Mara is passionate about bringing real-world experiences to the students of TEA and ensuring they have the skills and abilities to leave TEA to become courageous citizens of the world. She was drawn to her leadership position in order to advocate and support students, parents, and teachers while contributing to the “magic sauce” of TEA.
What inspired you to join TEA? TEA allows teachers to bring curriculum alive in order to make learning fun, challenging, and applicable to the real world. Traveling for fieldwork with students allows them to dive deeper into content, work with experts, develop a multicultural understanding of the world, and allows the student and teacher relationship to develop. When I see TEA students alongside students from other schools I am always blown away by their social and emotional maturity. TEA allows us to bridge the gap between rigorous academics, social-emotional learning and character development, and real-world adventure. At most schools, it is hard to implement change, but at TEA we thrive on it because we live in a dynamic world.
Where did you go to school? University of Oregon, B.A. History + Sierra Nevada College, M.A.T.
What is something that not everyone knows about you, but probably should? I love cooking and baking. I used to make wedding cakes and novelty cakes for special events.