JCPS Backpack League: An ‘Un-School’ Adventure

Backpack League providing out-of-the-box learning for students 

The rollicking faces of the nearly 1,000 students leaving Day 1 of the JCPS Backpack League said it all. This learning experience was different than the typical school year.

“There are a lot more students here. And the building is huge!” said Keyoni Burks, who will begin sixth grade at the W.E.B. DuBois Academy in the fall.  

Backpack Leauge Logo on the floor of Male High

The Backpack League was constructed to provide campers (all incoming third- through sixth-graders) learning opportunities that are “out-of-the-box,” project-based learning units. Campers were able to choose from such options as Kentucky in Pictures, Mutant Powers, Geocaching in the Ville, and Compassion in Action. Special area classes include CrossFit and a culinary class. “I can’t wait to learn and build new things. This is a really fun way to learn,” shared Destany King, who will start middle school in August at Robert Frost Sixth-Grade Academy. She eagerly raised her hand to share her thoughts, cheerfully smiling throughout our brief chat.

I was able to squeeze in a few moments with Anna Sanders (@msannasanders), an assistant principal for the Backpack League, who serves as a literacy coach for Minors Lane Elementary. She recently completed her administrator’s degree and was thrilled to get a crash course on opening and closing a school in one month’s time. “We have 1,000 students—dealing with the logistics of such a large group of learners is an exciting way to gain experience in leading a school. I’m also very excited to see educators teach their passions and their most engaging lessons. It can train me what to look for in regards to student engagement and out-of-the-box teaching experiences.”

A huge component of Backpack League logistics was modifying Louisville Male High School. The three-story structure is quite imposing to an incoming freshman, so making the immense halls feel at home for 8- to 12-year-olds was paramount. Colorful arrows point to stairwells, inspiring signage fills the school’s lobby, and table-tops with session titles signify lunch areas for campers. My new friend Pablo Sales Jimenez, who just finished fourth grade at Cochrane Elementary, said that “this building is even a learning experience—there are so many interesting things here. It’s much different than the other schools I have gone to.”

Backpack Leauge Logo on a poster
Sanders, when asked about what makes the Backpack League experience such a benefit to the campers, shared, “The more engaged kids are, the more they learn. They have a unique opportunity that the traditional school year may not offer to fall in love with learning through a variety of different field trips, guest speakers, and activities that are happening in their class each day of camp.”

Over the next four weeks, I’ll get to be a student again, popping into classes and tagging along on field trips to chronicle the Backpack League with all of you. It’s something I’ve been looking forward to for months now. If you know me, you know I’m still a child at heart. :)

MeMe Ratliff is the teacher engagement resource for Jefferson County Public Schools. She is a co-founder of JCPSForward, a teacher leadership movement that connects the district’s educators to one another and to professional resources. You can follow her on Twitter at @meme3rat (personal) and @JCPSForward.

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