America's Most Amazing Schools

By Lisa Guernsey and Sonia Harmon

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The Odyssey School
Photo by Donny Roush

The Odyssey School - Denver, Colorado

Grades K-8

Who says kids need a classroom to learn? At the aptly named Odyssey School, some of the best lessons occur far from school buildings. This charter school is a proponent of "expeditionary learning," a philosophy based on the ideas of Kurt Hahn, founder of the outdoor-education organization Outward Bound. One example: When studying the effect of the 19th-century Gold Rush on American Indian tribes, Odyssey sixth graders took an overnight field trip to a Ute reservation. "It was a perfect blending of adventure and content," says the school's director, Marcia Fulton. Other classes have studied at campsites, on hiking trails and in Colorado's rocky canyons.

But Odyssey's adventures in learning involve more than just the great outdoors. Last year, for instance, a group of younger students doing a unit on body systems visited a local blood bank and heard cardiologists talk about their work. "Essentially, our community is the basis for our learning," explains Fulton. This hands-on approach has won the school not only academic kudos, including recognition by the state as a "School of Distinction," but also off-the-charts popularity: More than 300 students are on this year's waiting list.

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