Michael Dunn's Learning Story


Very early in my educational career I found learning was my niche. I was constantly consuming knowledge through as many mediums as I could. Whether it was reading, writing, watching movies, listening to music, watching presentations, or just enjoying the outdoors, learning seemed to come naturally.
Regardless of this, I struggled through the fog of school years that were grades K-12. Getting an "A" was never the issue, but finding the relevance in my duty as a student seemed to elude me. I supplemented my classroom experiences with as many clubs, sports and arts as I could to help ease me through the school day. By the time I reached college I was a learning robot, spitting out knowledge as I consumed it, rarely digesting as my brain gorged itself.
When I reached graduate school, the relevance of my content choices seemed clear, but I quickly became wary of the political nature of graduate degrees. I struggled through classes while finding solace in Service-Learning. I volunteered with students in Detroit and worked with non-profits to make learning relevant. I focused my energy on empowering students to use their energies to work in the communities in which they lived. In 2008 I stumbled upon the AmeriCorps Public Allies Service-Learning Teaching Fellowship at Eagle Rock School and Professional Development Center in Estes Park, Colorado.
While being apart of a number of learning communities in the past few years, none were as powerful as the small school in Estes Park called Eagle Rock. There are so many elements playing together to make Eagle Rock effective, but two I wish to highlight are the extremely dedicated staff and the empowerment of students through choice-based learning.The staff at Eagle Rock is dedicated to learning through many mediums which are not simply limited to classroom interaction. Much of the learning at Eagle Rock, in fact, occurs outside of the classroom through mentoring scenarios and other positive interactions. As for the choice-based learning, students at Eagle Rock are continually bombarded with the idea of education being a choice they have to make continually each day.
By empowering students with this choice, Eagle Rock pushes each to continually refocus their educational experience and foster intrinsic motivation. After leaving Eagle Rock, I transitioned to a learning community in Philadelphia where we strived to reach many of the same goals Eagle Rock strives for. We worked to empower student choices and appreciate their strengths as assets. As we worked through this process, I began to appreciate what high quality learning communities have to offer and what discipline it takes to develop these communities.
Eagle Rock continues to be awe-inspiring for me. Its dedicated staff, hard-working students and dedication to its mission make it an incredible place to live, work and visit.