SUBSCRIBE NOW AND SAVE 3 months just 99¢/month

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Explorer Academy opens, 'challenging norms' of education

The program at Lewis and Clark Elementary School was designed to help students facing behavioral challenges

Fargo Public School board members and partners, along with Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney, cut the ribbon at the grand opening of the Explorer Academy on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021.jpg
Fargo Public School board members and partners, along with Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney, cut the ribbon at the grand opening of the Explorer Academy on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021. C.S. Hagen / The Forum

FARGO — Lauded as the “example for the state,” the new Explorer Academy held its grand opening Tuesday, Nov. 16.

More than 100 people attended the event, which has been in the works for nearly five years, said Fargo Public Schools Superintendent Rupak Gandhi.

Fargo Public Schools Superintendent Rupak Gandhi with Explorer Academy Principal Justin Lien at the grand opening of the Explorer Academy on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021.jpg
Fargo Public Schools Superintendent Rupak Gandhi with Explorer Academy Principal Justin Lien at the grand opening of the Explorer Academy on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021. C.S. Hagen / The Forum

The academy, a school within a school, is an extension to Lewis and Clark Elementary School, offering specialized help for Fargo students who face behavioral challenges. The $11.8 million project took years to finish because parents and school board members argued for and against such a facility.

ADVERTISEMENT

Some parents said training for special education was needed more for teachers; however, the district had no separate setting for students with extreme behaviors.

Inside the academy, sharp corners are difficult to find. The walls are rounded. Soft lighting and wall projectors present a calming atmosphere. Much of the furniture is soft, and the sensory gym, which was created to help children build confidence in themselves, resembles an entertainment center, said instructor Nate Hendrickson.

Explorer Academy sensory gym.jpg
Explorer Academy sensory gym. C.S. Hagen / The Forum

“We had to challenge the norms on how we deliver education,” Gandhi said, adding that the building’s uniqueness will help remove triggers that lead some students into misbehavior or agitation.

“This is the first investment into students recognizing that some students have special needs,” Gandhi said. The stories the students in the academy will create in the future won’t be the ones on the front page, he said, but will be “stories of normalcy.”

Explorer Academy Principal Justin Lien said that “every nook and cranny has a story,” which will help support the whole child, socially and emotionally to enhance academic success.

“It took an entire village — sometimes neighboring villages — to make this dream possible,” Lien said.

ADVERTISEMENT

Kim Pladson, executive director of TNT Kid's Fitness & Gymnastics, a partner with the academy, said she believes student potential will be unlocked through movement.

Explorer Academy Smart Lab.jpg
Explorer Academy SmartLab. C.S. Hagen / The Forum

“A child is a gift waiting to be opened. This is what this school means to the community and what this school means to the state,” Pladson said. “We are shaping the future. A third of our population, our children, are 100% of our future. We’re setting the example for the state.”

Dr. Tonya Greywind, assistant director of the North Dakota Center for Distance Education, said the SmartLab is based on hands-on projects and experiences and is equipped with drones, 3D printers and “an explosion of opportunities.”

The sensory gym has ziplines and trampolines and, in the center, a pit with soft, foamy pillows. It’s a place where children can “crash and crash safely,” Hendrickson said.

The gym presents fun and challenges, and is designed to increase body awareness, problem solving and expressing difficulties.

Many rooms inside the academy have no doors because isolation is not a part of the school’s program. Students also have access to calming rooms, and a mental health gallery is available as well.

ADVERTISEMENT

Teachers and staff also have their own Zen Room where they can decompress and recharge, Lien said.

The Explorer Academy’s mascot is the Wolves, which was inspired by North American Indigenous 7 Grandfather Teachings that represent the animal with humility, according to a press release from Explorer Academy.

“The wolf is strong and powerful alone, but finds its greatest strength when it is part of the pack,” the press release stated.

“We recognize that no two learners are the same,” Gandhi said, adding that the Explorer Academy was a true reflection of the Fargo School District.

Related Topics: EDUCATION
What to read next
This is the second time Aaron Lambert was charged with driving under the influence while a child was in his vehicle, court records show.
Leaders said Capstone Classical Academy will welcome diverse students of all faiths.
Boss' Pizza & Chicken will receive its license, but commissioner Kay Schwarzwalter said there's too many downtown already.
Hopefuls will come to campus starting Monday, Jan. 24.