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  • Writer's pictureRachel Adams

WPS Travel Log: A Learner-centered Ecosystem in Colorado

Updated: Mar 23

“The Mountains are calling and I must go.” - John Muir,

This February, my colleague, Carrie, and I struck out West to visit learner-centered schools and organizations located within Colorado's Front Range region.

We flew to Denver, anchoring our visit with Embark Education's Embedded Experience. As both a Micro Middle School, a successful coffee shop, and a center for Adult Education and Learning Embark straddles many worlds. We were able to meet with other educators from around the country to experience Embark's model firsthand. From competency based education to real-world experiences, Embark is working to reimagine middle school and to share their thinking and ideas across the country. The true magic embedded in this experience was hearing from the learners about what it is about the model that works for them; above all, being the foundational idea of radical trust.

Radical Trust

In a world with radical trust, traditional systems of power are challenged and power is reallocated to folks who do not have access to it. In schools, this means that learners are empowered to make choices about what and how they learn. It was obvious that young people at Embark not only felt trusted by their adults but were also learning to trust themselves. Using Google Calendar to create their unique schedule for the school day or taking a walk around the neighborhood independently are a few examples we observed.

Learning Providers

While in Denver, Carrie and I both wanted to see what other learner-centered schools and organizations made up the educational ecosystem. At Words Beyond Walls, a nonprofit supporting youth and community members with ties to incarceration, we participated in an afterschool healing circle. We continued our exploration of the regional ecosystem by meeting with Kat Ling, the Executive Director of Moonshot, who introduced us to the work of Moonshot innovation space: an incubator cultivating community leaders.

We also visited  La Luz, an Expeditionary Learning micro-middle school in the heart of Denver, before stopping by The Village High School, a hybrid model in Colorado Springs. Students at The Village complete core content work virtually and spend their in-person learning time on electives.

Across all of these spaces there was a tangible desire to provide students with more agency, and educational experiences that are community-embedded and open-walled.

Educational Abundance

Carrie and I flew back to Massachusetts brimming with ideas and inspiration. As I think about the diverse and beautiful opportunities for learners across Colorado's Front Range, I am struck with this take away: each of the providers shared that their unique approach to supporting learner-centered education was successful because they were working alongside one another. In other words, they have developed a thriving education ecosystem

I wonder what it would look like to develop that same learner-centered, educational abundance here in New England?


The WPS Institute creates innovative programs and partnerships to transform learning. We advance models of schooling where learning thrives everywhere, in classrooms and beyond; where students and their families are empowered to shape their own educational journeys; and where entire communities contribute to the development of young people.


Rachel Adams (Program Manager)

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