Get Outside Your Comfort Zone
And Learn How to Thrive in the Most Uncomfortable Situations
Our approach is centered around three guiding principles – academics, character, and adventure. Engaging academics and real-world adventures empower students to reach their full potential by cultivating intellectual growth, character, and confidence. 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 Middle School students spend 30+ days in the field, actively engaging with experts on incredible projects and adventures that challenge them in unexpected ways. Throughout these Learning Expeditions, we intentionally create and engage with adverse situations to grow our student’s comfort zones. We call it Constructive Adversity, and it’s what sets our school apart from others.
Our core subject areas include English Language Arts, Math, Science, STEAM (Science / Technology / Engineering / Arts / Math) and Social Studies. Students learn core academics and the arts through multidisciplinary projects to gain a deep understanding of the subject matter. In this respect, we teach both breadth and depth – breadth in the sense that students learn a wide range of content and skills and depth because they regularly have the opportunity to apply the learning in real-world contexts. Our students spend significant time learning reading, writing, and math. We address the same Common Core Language Arts and Math standards, Next Generation Science standards and National Council for Social Science standards that other schools address.
Character development, service learning and leadership training are important elements for academic achievement, social emotional learning and ethical development. At TEA, “We are crew, not passengers,” and each student is a member of a crew. In these small, supportive groups, each student is known well and engages in the proactive cultivation of character and leadership. We help students nurture character values and practice meeting adversity head on so our graduates have the courage and intestinal fortitude to “survive and thrive” when things get tough.
Adventure is an integral component of our program and we have intentionally created more regularity, accessibility and intensity of our students’ adventures inside and outside the classroom. We spend one third of our time in the field working with experts and engaging firsthand. Both in the classroom and on field studies, teachers serve as mentors and guides; challenging, supporting, and inspiring. Moreover, our talented faculty encourage students to take calculated risks, produce quality work and realize their potential as scholars.
Learning Expeditions Drive Our Curriculum - "Be A Movement Maker" Example
We partner with EL Education, which now includes 170 schools and nearly 50,000 students nationwide, to collaborate with a professional network of schools and educators and to validate our program. EL Education is a proven model for educational reform that has gained national recognition. Learning expeditions are the core component of our academic program. Expeditions make content come alive for students, with kick-off and culminating experiences, compelling topics, guiding questions, learning targets (based on state and national standards), hands-on fieldwork, experts, local case studies, service learning and authentic products.
Our Middle School “Be a Movement Maker” Learning Expedition is about moving society, and in many ways, it’s as much about young people emerging into the world and finding their voices as it is about challenging retrogressive social norms. During the Learning Expedition, students engage in authentic fieldwork in the Bay Area, conducting climate change research, honing their craft, and studying the complex work of professional scientists, poets, and social justice advocates. Their final product, a Youth TEDx presentation focused on issues of climate change, integrate all of their learnings and then present them before a community audience. In this work, students use their knowledge to deliver a powerful oratorical piece that is as informed by the spirit of movement makers as it is by the indisputable facts of science.
Through the “Be a Movement Maker” Learning Expedition, Luke was inspired after learning more about climate change. When he found out the cost of the greenhouse was $5,000 he felt there had to be a better way. “And that’s why I invented the Hexadome. The Hexadome cuts down on global emissions from long distance food transportation that litters about 31 percent of our total carbon footprint production.”
What Sets TEA Apart
Every day begins with a crew meeting. This is a way to make every student feel included, to greet one another and to center themselves in the learning environment, to resolve any social issues, to address any concerns and to come together as a community.
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.
Field Studies, Experts and Service
Learning Expeditions embed and integrate field studies, experts and service learning into a larger curriculum unit. By traveling into the natural world as well as to regional, national and international communities and locales, students are able to extend and apply their learning in authentic ways and to engage in realistic, hands-on learning experiences. Equally important, our students are able to expand their scope of understanding about the world around them and truly develop and grow as global citizens by meeting with experts and professionals in the field. 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.
These are mixed age classes focusing on life skills such as sewing, blacksmithing, dancing, ceramics, and stewardship. Students choose their guilds in the beginning of each semester and enjoy mixing up the social dynamic through fun Friday Afternoon activities.
Meet Our Amazing Middle 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 Middle School students.
MOLLY FERNHOLZ | 7TH / 8TH GRADE MATH AND SCIENCE TEACHER
Molly grew up in rural Minnesota and graduated with a degree in Education from The College of St. Scholastica in Duluth, MN. It was in college that her love for the outdoors began. She worked many summers teaching kids to rock climb and kayak along the north shore of Lake Superior. After college, Molly moved to San Francisco and began her teaching career. She taught at 3 different schools in San Francisco, mainly focusing on Math and Science. Molly also worked as a naturalist for an outdoor education company in California. Two years ago Molly moved to Quetzaltenango, Guatemala to teach 5th grade. It has been a challenging but rewarding two years, and she grew as a teacher and a person because of the experience. She also started mountain biking. Molly enjoys cycling, hiking/backpacking, and running ½ marathons. She also enjoys a good cup of coffee and a good book.
BETH VALARINO | 7TH / 8TH GRADE ELA AND HUMANITIES TEACHER
Beth was born and raised in Honolulu and has spent the majority of her adult life living and teaching outside of the United States. She lived in Panama City, Panama for nearly six years, where she taught 6th grade at an American school there. Beth then spent four years teaching 7th through 9th grade at an international school in Egypt, and has most recently spent time teaching 7th and 8th grade at an independent school in Seattle. Throughout her career, Beth has been lucky to have been able to provide outdoor opportunities for students. In Cairo, she facilitated an outdoor education program which allowed for students to participate in desert sandboarding trips, windsurfing trips to the Red Sea, horseback riding excursions to the pyramids, and trips into lesser known Oases outside of Cairo’s city sprawl. Some of Beth’s personal interests include surfing, stand up paddling, cycling, hiking, running, snowboarding, traveling, and spending time with her dog. She’s made it to the summit of Africa’s three highest mountains. Beth is an avid reader and writer.
MARK HENASEY | MUSIC TEACHER
Mark graduated with a Music Education degree from University of Massachusetts Amherst. He enjoys performing music and teaching students of all ages. His teaching methods are diverse and oriented towards each student’s specific musical personality. He spent nine years as a Faculty Instructor for the Summer Institute for the Gifted teaching music courses at Princeton University, UCLA, Drew University and Bryn Mawr College. He also worked as a high school music director for a private boarding school for seven years. His original compositions have been featured on University of Princeton radio (WPRB 103.3) and his projects have opened for many international touring acts including Ween, The Wailers, Bernie Worrell (P-Funk and Talking Heads) and Vernon Reed (Living Color).
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.
MICHELLE MORAN | SPANISH TEACHER
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 pre K 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.