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Frequently Asked Questions


Does GEMS have a connection to The Graham School, The Charles School at Ohio Dominican University or Graham Primary School?

Yes, The Graham School (TGS) was started in 2001 by our school’s leaders, Greg Brown and Eileen Meers. TGS’s motto is, “Encounter the World, Engage the Mind” and emphasizes experiential education through a comprehensive internship and volunteer program as well as hands-on learning and engaging curriculum in the traditional classroom setting. Greg and Eileen also started The Charles School (TCS) at Ohio Dominican University in 2007. TCS has an experiential focus as well that plays out through week-long learning expeditions and the college courses that students take at Ohio Dominican University. TCS is a five-year high school where students are able to receive their high school diploma and up to the equivalent of 62 hours of college credit from ODU for free. TCS is also a member of the Middle College Consortium. TGS and TCS, both charters to the state of Ohio, are free to residents of Ohio just like traditional public school districts. Graham Primary School (GPS) will open next fall with grades K-2 and will add a grade each year thereafter to end up with a K-5 school.

If my student attends GEMS, will they be able to automatically be enrolled at TGS or TCS?

Because GEMS, TGS, TCS and GPS are separate schools, we cannot promise that your student will automatically be enrolled in GEMS, TGS or TCS once he/she has advanced from one of our other schools. However, we will be sure to first alert families at GEMS of our enrollment dates and application information when available. 

How is Expeditionary Learning teaching different than traditional teaching?

GEMS teachers will be working together to create a curriculum that connects our academic disciplines (math, science, language arts, and social studies, art). Learning expeditions are investigations of compelling topics, based on state standards, and include several subject areas. Learning will be hands-on with a focus on creating high quality products that exemplify content knowledge and development. Students will be doing research, gaining critical thinking skills, leaving the campus for purposeful fieldwork and working with experts.

Does this type of teaching help prepare students to be successful in high school and then in college?

Yes! A focus on authentic research, critical thinking, and developing quality products, along with an emphasis on teamwork and individual character development helps students develop skills that are valuable throughout life.

How will student learning be assessed?

There will be a focus on a mastery of content as well as meeting learning targets and content standards set forth by teachers at the beginning of each term. Our grading scale, as used by The Graham School for the past 12 years, will not evaluate students with traditional report cards. Instead, TGS, TCS and GEMS uses grade term narratives, gateways, and other summative assessments and other methods designed to evaluate whether a student has mastered the core concepts of our curriculum. Students are not compared against each other. Instead, over time, a student’s work is measured against his/her previous work in order to evaluate individual progress within essential skill areas and across disciplines.

Our evaluative structure measures expectations based on the following scale:

EE (Exceeds Expectations): The Student produces/demonstrates outstanding work, participation, and mastery of subject matter, going above and beyond what is required.  This evaluation indicates that a student has exceeded the expectations that were established for this student by the classroom teacher or placement site mentor. A student who achieves an EE earns credit for the course.

ME (Meets Expectations): The Student produces/demonstrates consistent work and participation, meeting all class requirements, demonstrating full understanding of subject matter.  This evaluation indicates that a student has met the expectations that were established for this student by the classroom teacher or placement site mentor. A student who achieves an ME earns credit for the course.

AE (Approaches Expectations): The Student produces/demonstrates inconsistent work and participation.  Student is failing to demonstrate adequate understanding of the material in all areas.  This evaluation indicates that a student has made strides toward meeting the expectations that were established for this student by the classroom teacher or placement site mentor. The student is on the way toward meeting expectations but is not there yet. Students earning an AE as a final evaluative mark for a semester class.

JB (Just Beginning): The Student is so inconsistent with producing/demonstrating work or participation that adequate understanding is not established.  Students earning a JB as a final evaluative mark for a semester class, a yearlong class or Partner Site placement will NOT earn academic credit for the class.

Final Comments on Evaluations at GEMS

Our evaluations are not grades in the traditional sense, because they do much more than sort and rank students. Instead, our evaluation system describes what work looks like when it approaches, meets, or exceeds our expectations. Moreover, our evaluations are presented in narrative form so that the student, the parent/guardian and other interested parties will have a greater understanding of the totality of the student’s performance in a variety of identified essential skills, academic objectives, and experiential abilities. These evaluations are universally transferable to high schools, colleges and universities.

Is GEMS open to students on an intervention plan?

GEMS is open to any student who resides in Ohio, regardless of disability or academic standing, and will provide support for students on an Individualized Education Plan (IEP).

What evidence is there that Expeditionary Learning is an effective model?

Extensive research on the Expeditionary Learning model, along with small school success statistics, indicate that the model is very effective for all types of students. Please visit the EL Schools website for further data –

Who are the teachers? What are their credentials? What qualifies them to teach in this kind of school?

All of our teachers will meet the standards for being highly qualified and licensed in the state of Ohio. Our team of teachers meets throughout the year and for professional development and the planning of each year’s curriculum. Professional development includes an appointed school designer from EL schools, visits to other EL schools and planning & learning retreats. Additionally, GEMS teachers have several planned professional development days and weekly meetings dedicated to collaboration and planning.

What will the school and class sizes be?

In our second year we have about 160 students with class sizes of 20-25 students.

Will there be a lot of field trips?

Students will be doing fieldwork off campus at various times. They will also get a chance to participate in team building activities on and off campus. Off campus learning opportunities will depend upon the needs of the curriculum. Families are notified at least a week in advance of all off-campus programs.

Will the school meet state standards?

Yes, all learning expeditions begin with the state standards, which are infused throughout the middle school experience and intertwined throughout the curriculum. GEMS will abide by all state and national mandates that pertain to all public schools.

Will students be taking any achievement tests?

We will be administering all state-mandated exams including the Ohio Achievement Assessment. We will also provide the opportunity for 8th grade students to take the PSAT.  Further, we will utilize the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) assessment three times each year to help gauge student leavening levels and achievement.

How is EL different than Outward Bound?

Outward Bound is an adventure wilderness organization that works with youth on 7-28 day intensive experiences. Expeditionary Learning uses some of the OB design principles, but is dedicated to creating schools with academic rigor that prepare students for post-secondary education and experience successful relationships throughout each student’s life.

Will there be a dress code?

There will not be uniforms nor will there be a specific dress code. However, modesty and appropriate attire will be expected and addressed when necessary. More information can be found in our student & family handbook.

What is your philosophy of student discipline?

All disciplinary matters will begin with personal character development and school culture. Expectations will be presented at the beginning of the school year and revisited throughout the year during daily small group advisory time (Crew) and other school-wide and classroom discussions and presentations. Student responsibility and personal education plans will be visited on an individual basis to compliment these efforts.

How will you establish a positive school culture and effective learning environment?

Through the use of traditions and rituals, students will be introduced to our expectations of the student body as a whole from the beginning of the year. Daily Crew time, weekly community meetings, student government, and team-building activities are all examples of how we build support and structure to our school’s culture.

Where have other EL schools been started?

Currently, there are about 150 EL schools (primary, middle, and secondary) within the US. EL Schools was formed about 25 years ago and continues to grow as a network of schools. For more information on other EL middle schools, please check out a few online at

Where can I find more information?

Stay posted for updates and continuing news and other information on our school’s website at

What are the steps for becoming a student at GEMS?

GEMS is a public school where enrollment is open to any student residing in the state of Ohio. Applications are available at our Enrollment Information Session events and online at

Will transportation be provided?

Columbus will provide busing to students living with the Columbus City School district. Applications for receiving transportation will be available early this summer and due back to GEMS for submission to the busing office in August. Any transportation needed to and from fieldwork outside the classroom will be provided by GEMS. 

More News

The Candle Lab Fundraiser for TGFS! - Oct 19th
The Candle Lab Fundraiser for TGFS! Please shop at The Candle Lab (646 High St, Worthington, 43085) on Wednesday, October 25th from 11:00am-8:00pm. 20% of the days proceeds will be donated to The Graham...
PINS Fundraiser - Mon. Oct. 30 - Oct 17th
Click here for more information! Click here to sign up!
GEMS Chipotle Fundraiser - Wed. Oct. 25 - Aug 1st
Make dinner a selfless act by joining us for a fundraiser to support Graham Elementary And Middle School. Come in to the Chipotle at 4489 N High Street in Columbus on Wednesday, October 25th between 4:...
Attention GEMS Families - Jul 28th
Dear GEMS Families, It is hard to believe that the summer is just about halfway over - hopefully it has been enjoyable for everyone! We wanted to update you on the process of our new identity as Graham...
Breakfast Program 2017-18 - May 30th
Click here for information about the 2017-18 school breakfast program.

Upcoming Events

Tue, Oct 24th 2:45 pm - 3:15 pm
Wed, Oct 25th 4:00 pm - 8:00 pm
Make dinner a selfless act by joining us for a fundraiser to...
Wed, Oct 25th 6:00 pm - 7:30 pm
The Candle Lab Fundraiser for TGFS! Please shop at The...
Fri, Oct 27th (All day)
Mon, Oct 30th (All day)
Mon, Oct 30th 4:00 pm - 7:00 pm
Click here for more information! Click here to sign up!

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