Academic Culture

  • Our students’ academic work has real world relevance.
  • Our students become experts in the topics they are studying.
  • Our students learn to solve problems & synthesize complex information.

Academic Culture

At WHEELS, we follow the  EL Education approach to teaching and learning. EL Education (formerly known as Expeditionary Learning) is a school-wide model that fosters change in the culture, structures, and instructional practices of its partner schools.  It is an application of Outward Bound’s educational principles and practices in classrooms and toward subject areas – reading, writing, math, science, history, foreign language, music, art, physical education – that comprise the daily reality of schools. 

Real and sustained learning occurs because skills and understandings are applied in various contexts and students discover that they can accomplish more than they thought possible.  The EL Education model uses these kinds of instructional practices in academic classrooms to help teachers create powerful learning experiences, called “learning expeditions”, which foster academic rigor and character growth.  Learning expeditions make learning more active through fieldwork, hands-on experiences, applications of knowledge/skills and authentic project work that is shared with a larger audience. Expeditionary Learning motivates students to go deeper, work harder, and to do their best work. 

Programs & Structures

In addition to learning expeditions and their academic outgrowths, WHEELS brings EL Education and our Outward Bound roots to life through a variety of additional programs and structures, including:


Every WHEELS student belongs to a Crew – a small group that remains together until graduation. Led by a Crew Leader, Crews meet regularly to discuss college preparation, leadership development and personal challenges. Crew provides a safe, consistent environment for students to practice their leadership skills, communication skills, and to continue growing by raising personal and community standards.

Student-Led Conferences

At most schools, parents attend a student-teacher conference. But at WHEELS, parents attend student-led conferences, where students lead their own conferences by presenting the work they have completed. They also reflect honestly on what they can improve, how they can further challenge themselves, and how to continue their success after graduating from WHEELS. Our Student-Led Conferences have been so successful, that the Department of Education has highlighted them on their Promising Practices website. See the video here. 

Crew Orientation

All incoming students attend a five-day, overnight wilderness trip with their Crew, where they will develop the individual and group leadership skills to communicate successfully through conflict, take individual initiative to overcome challenges, and to support one another as members of the WHEELS community. Crew Orientation is run by our partner NYC Outward Bound Schools, which has a two-decade track record of providing safe, quality educational experiences.

WHEELS has been named a Mentor School by EL Education!

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