How can I contact SAEL?

Call us:  530-268-2200

School Office Location: 340 Buena Vista, Grass Valley, CA 95945

Office Hours: 8:30am - 4:30pm M-Fri (CLOSED JULY; Meetings by appointment only)

Email us:

Like us on Facebook: Sierra Academy of Expeditionary Learning

Follow us on Twitter: @SierraAcademy

How is SAEL different?

SAEL uses project-based, hands on, interdisciplinary learning to reach high level academic standards. We are a small school that can offer individualized attention. We are TUITION-FREE and have the same academic standards and expectations as other public schools, but with a focus on making the learning come alive. Community partnerships and frequent work in the field give students a chance to truly experience their learning. Although SAEL will challenge students to think critically, it is a school for all types of learning and thinking styles. Students are given the opportunity to create high quality work that will serve a real purpose in the community. Our foundation of Expeditionary Learning and the clear results of EL schools across the country adds legitimacy to our dynamic approach to the creation of an engaging, inviting, and rigorous school program. We work together to form a strong school culture that supports tolerance, diversity, and excellence. Character education is woven into how we teach and how we learn. Service learning is not just used as a singular event, but a means of discovering the world and helping to preserve, protect, and support it. We have a social justice approach. This means students are not only pushed to think critically, discuss passionately, and learn deeply, but they are also asked to do this while examining the issues in our world from multiple perspectives and with open minds. All students are expected to apply to college. This does not mean students must blindly choose college after high school, but instead are empowered to engage in the application process with guidance from SAEL staff so they are prepared for the many applications they will be faced with throughout their lives. We believe all doors need to be open to our students when they leave SAEL. We are excited to be able to support students to find their path after high school, whether they choose college, trade school, the military, or a gap year program. In order to make an active choice about next steps, best fits, and bright futures, students are given the chance to explore real work as they interact with the real professions to which their academic subjects are tied. We believe our students can and will succeed and we know we have the means of providing those opportunities to the individuals who trust us with their education. We are CREW not passengers, which means we constantly collaborate to support one another at SAEL. Adventure is a part of our curriculum and our approach. Watch the video to learn more about us. See the document below to see a chart comparing SAEL with a traditional high school.

SAEL on KNCO_051315.mp3

How is SAEL the same? Can my student go to college if they go to SAEL? And what about a-g???

SAEL uses a standards-based approach which means students will be studying the same state and national skills as any other public school student in the state of California. We just approach the learning and grading of those skills differently. SAEL is WASC accredited and the majority of our college preparatory classes are a-g certified with a couple more in development as they have been added with our 12th grade class. This means SAEL students will be prepared and eligible for college in the UC/CSU system and at schools throughout the country. Expeditionary Learning high schools nationwide work to achieve a 100% college acceptance rate and SAEL plans to do the same with each one of our graduating seniors. UC Davis, CSU Chico, Sterling College, and Prescott College admissions representatives have spoken with our students, families, and faculty. They have all assured us that a standards or mastery based grading approach is not only welcome, but can often provide more information to colleges about the skills a student may possess in character and academics. We are a public, tuition-free high school that uses our learning model to help students do more than they think possible.

Which clubs / extracurriculars will you offer at SAEL? 

SAEL offers a variety of clubs and extracurriculars that have included Art, Eco, Gardening, Entrepreneur, Music, Mountain Biking, Cross Fit, Martial Arts, Ski and Snowboarding, Trail Running, Basketball, Weight Lifting, Anime, and Multimedia. SAEL staff and students will be developing and shifting SAEL Clubs and Student Government opportunities based on student interest and teacher expertise. The Crew Council will meet weekly and be composed of one representative from each Crew.

Where exactly are you located?

Our address is 340 Buena Vista, Grass Valley, CA 95945. We are close to downtown Grass Valley. Our main office is B1. Follow the signs for SAEL when you enter the campus.

Do you have Homework at SAEL? I heard you do not have any homework.

We push students to work hard when they are here with us at SAEL. We have blocked classes which allows for 1.5 hour core academic classes to dig into work and material together. We also offer Office Hours at the end of each school day Monday - Thursday. This allows students to work on Homework, to seek out extra help, or to take their learning further with a teacher of their choice. So, yes, we have homework at SAEL, but it is not assigned for the sake of doing work at home. Work is meaningful and allows students to dig in deeper. All students are working toward mastery and there may be projects that take extra work at home or reflection between classes to make sure students are digesting and discussing their learning. Often students get work done in Office Hours and other times they need to take it home or collaborate with peers after school. Our students and families will tell you that the work they do see come home is not busy work and students are always allowed to bring it back in the next day for support in class or Office Hours if they are struggling.

Can I apply? How do I apply?

All California students can be accepted to SAEL. We are FREE. There is no cost to attend SAEL. Please go to our Enrollment page to get the necessary forms. These forms can be sent in via email or regular mail.

Who started SAEL?

When local parents, community members, and educators decided they wanted to create a new Expeditionary Learning high school option in the area, they came together to form the SAEL Board of Directors. These trailblazers wanted to offer another choice for high schoolers, especially one that believes in supporting 100% college acceptance for all students. All of the founding and current board members have a connection to Grass Valley Charter School, a successful, K-8 EL mentor school. Similarly to how GVCS works within the public school system to be seen as another solid option for students within the district, SAEL works closely with the Nevada Joint Union High School District. You can read about the founding board members and their backgrounds on our Board Archive page here. You can also see bios and pictures of current board members here.

How many students will be at SAEL ?

We will grow to have about 250 students total in grades 9 - 12. We will have about 60 students per grade and about 15 students per Crew.

What is Expeditionary Learning or EL Education? 

Expeditionary Learning is our school partner and way of approaching teaching and learning at SAEL. It is a whole-school model that includes a national network of schools. Please go to our Expeditionary Learning page for more information or visit to access EL's website. On our website, you can see EL's Design Principle's here as well as an overview video about EL here.

What is your relationship to the Nevada Joint Union High School District or NJUHSD?

NJUHSD is the authorizing district for our charter school. NJUHSD holds SAEL accountable to fulfilling the promises made in SAEL's charter. The NJUHSD also oversees our Special Education program as we are a school of the district for Special Education. There is also a representative from NJUHSD, Michael Hughes, on our Board of Directors. We work closely with NJUHSD to be considered another solid choice for students in the community.

What type of information will we receive at a Community Information Session?

Community Information Sessions provide you with more background about SAEL in order to understand our mission and the vision for our students. Interested students, families, and community members are invited. Please attend to gain a greater understanding how and what students will be learning and to meet our incredible teaching and administrative staff. See the schedule on the homepage of our website.

What is the Charter Petition and what does it mean for SAEL?

You can read our Charter to learn more about the vision and mission of the school. Our latest Charter was approved unanimously by the NJUHSD Board in the 15-16 school year and is up for renewal in the 2020-2021 school year. The original petition was written by SAEL community members in order to gain funding and support for the creation of our school. As the teachers, staff, students, and community engage in the dynamic, difficult, and joyous work of creating a school, some of the elements of this petition can change. The soul of the petition and the spirit of the vision and mission of the school will remain. The document is available for download on the front page of our website.

What is an Expedition? Does that just mean you go camping?

Learning expeditions are semester-long, interdisciplinary "units" of study. Instead of studying each subject separately by using small units that often coincide with the chapters in a text book, learning expeditions involve a long-term investigation of a major topic that has real world connections. Students become the researchers, they engage in fieldwork, meet with experts, and work with complex texts that encourage critical thinking and discussing. Expeditions are standards-based and developed with the end product in mind. This product is authentic and serves a true purpose in the community. Through the use of continual, strategic, student-drive assessment practices, we know learning expeditions are a vehicle for student achievement and motivation in academics and character. In addition, expeditions are not just trips into the woods, although students will engage in outdoor adventure-based learning experiences. Our relationship with the natural world is an essential part of the Design Principles of EL, and will be incorporated into our learning expeditions and Adventure classes. Below you can watch a PBS report on an expedition at King Middle School, one of the most successful EL schools in the country. This video offers the perspective of the students along with how an expedition leads directly to student achievement in academics and character.

How do you integrate technology into teaching and learning at SAEL?

We believe, along with the creators of the Common Core State Standards, that students must learn how to strategically use technology in order to be tech literate and capable of wielding tech tools effectively. Each student will receive a Chromebook for use at school and at home. We will have a Technology Education class where students can plan, make, and create using the latest technology and also professional grade building practices. We will have a 3-D printer and are working on creating our full "Maker's Space." Teachers will use engaging instructional strategies that push all students to think critically and computers, projected interactive media, Elmos, and online resources will act as tools to support some of these strategies. Students will use innovative technology to support learning, present, organize resources, and as academic reference tools. Although students will have access to a variety of technology resources, these will be introduced and manipulated with care and only to enhance student learning when appropriate. Our students create e-portfolios and present them twice a year at Student Led Conferences. They also reflect on their goals with their family and Crew Advisor. Check out an example student e-portfolio to see how it looks:

How is fieldwork different from a field trip?

In Expeditionary Learning, students are actively engaged in real investigations while in the field. Students are expected to do actual academic and adventure work by being researchers of topics they are studying. A "field trip" can often be seen as a passive experience for the students who are asked to receive, instead of construct, knowledge. At SAEL, students will be expected to go on fieldwork regularly as a part of their semester-long Expeditions. This fieldwork will be connected to what students are studying and will be an essential part of their academic achievement. Students are continually asked to be CREW, not passengers, and fieldwork is one example of how that idea comes to life at SAEL. There is no ongoing cost for this fieldwork and we work very hard to fund raise to offset costs. We will ask families to help us fundraise, but there is no cost that each family must be able to afford.

Do you have sample curriculum and scheduling documents?

Yes. Please see the SAEL Student and Family Handbook above for our projected class sequence, schedule, and calendar. See an example Expedition below.
Expedition Exemplar_And Justice For All.pdf Expedition Exemplar_And Justice For All.pdf
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What are Intensives?

Intensives are courses lasting 4-10 full school days in which students are engaged in either an in-depth study of a topic or intense, targeted academic support. We will offer intensives at the end of each semester. Students who are passing all courses (and therefore have demonstrated mastery in all courses) can select from a menu of enrichment intensives offered. If a student is failing one or more class, he or she will be enrolled in an academic support intensive where the same learning targets or goals will be approached using a different array of instructional strategies.

Below are some of the Intensives we have offered at SAEL so far:

  • The Science of Art
  • Backpacking the American River
  • Coding and Gaming
  • BioCultural Leadership in Panama with EarthTrain
  • The California College Road Trip
  • Cars and Mechanical Systems
  • Culinary Magic
  • Drama
  • Planning Your Own Adventures
  • Gardening
  • Textiles and Fashion Creation
  • Backpacking the Yuba River
  • The Tahoe Rim Trail 100 Mile Challenge

What kind of press attention have you received? 

CCSA: New Public Charter School Shows Power of Hands On Learning!

The Union: Sierra Academy of Expeditionary Learning Open for Enrollment

KVMR featured interview on 4/14/14 at 8:30am on Steve Baker's morning show.

The Union: Sierra Academy Set to Launch

The Union: Expeditionary Learning Charter High School Open for Enrollment Sierra Academy Now Enrolling

Nevada City Advocate: Sierra Academy Opening! (Only available in print February 2014)

If you have connections to local media outlets, please let us know!

How can I help spread the word?

If you would like to help us share information and spread word to families and young people about SAEL, please call us with ideas at 530-268-2200 or reach out to Principal Erica Crane at We always welcome SAEL ambassadors and appreciate the creation of partnerships in our community. Liking our Facebook page, sharing our posts, and encouraging other folks to spread the word through social media is also very helpful. 

¿Qué pasa si mi familia habla español? / What if my family speaks Spanish?

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What is the Morgan Hill Case?

The California Department of Education (CDE) is requesting LEAs and SELPAs post the following link to the CDE’s Web site,, from February 1, 2016, through April 1, 2016. The link provides the Notice and Objection Form required by FERPA in relation to the Morgan Hill Case pending against the entire California Department of Education. The letter below explains how our school was NOT involved, but our data is subject to collection as we are a public school in California.

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SAEL Supply List & Dress Code.pdf SAEL Supply List & Dress Code.pdf
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Health Insurance Enrollment Information 

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Pictures of SAEL in Action