When Ann and Arnie Singal founded EXPLO in 1976, they created a unique summer experience for high school students that combined the best aspects of summer camps — close friendships, activities, and adventure — with a focus on intellectual engagement and lifelong learning.
The inspiration for EXPLO came from Arnie’s days as an administrator and freshman advisor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). There he met and hired one of his former advisees, Brian Hughes, to help him launch a new type of summer program that incorporated some innovative MIT initiatives, but geared them to high school students.
Brian and Arnie knew that MIT students really enjoy their first-year seminars. Designed to expose students to new subjects and academic disciplines, the seminars provide an intimate learning environment that encourages student participation and active learning. Because the seminars are informal and not graded in the traditional fashion, students are more apt to take academic risks than they are in their regular courses. Additionally, because the seminars have limited enrollment, students really get to know their instructors and classmates. The seminar atmosphere was lively, engaging, and intellectually provocative.
"From the nuts and bolts of lesson planning to fostering a child's curiosity, EXPLO gave me the confidence and the skills to teach."
Tung Trinh, Middle School Head Garrison Forest School, an EXPLO Lab School EXPLO Studio teacher
With a Curriculum and Instruction Department staffed with upwards of 10 full-time educators, EXPLO runs a cutting-edge teacher development program for more than 300 teachers each year. During the summer, each EXPLO campus has its own Curriculum and Instruction Department to observe, provide feedback to and actively mentor instructors in their teaching.
In 2015, EXPLO allocated more than one million dollars for need-based financial aid so that curious and talented students from around the world are able to attend.
In addition to the general financial aid program open to students across the globe, special scholarship programs have also been established, such as the Richard Steele Scholarship program, named after former EXPLO board member Dick Steele, who had an august admissions career leading the admissions offices at Duke University, Carleton College, and Bowdoin College. Steele Scholars, who hail from northern Aroostook County, Maine, USA, come to EXPLO at Yale for the summer following their freshman year of high school. They then participate in a college counseling program for the remainder of their high school careers.
EXPLO has partnered with organizations that serve the gifted and talented, such as the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation (JKC) and the King Abdulaziz and His Companions Foundation for the Gifted, as well as a variety of other organizations, including the Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity (METCO) and the Sunflower County Freedom Project.
EXPLO was born out of a summer program, but the institution’s innovative spirit — along with the growth of the professional EXPLO community — has grown into something much more. Says one EXPLO trustee: “I think of EXPLO as an educational think tank.”
EXPLO has participated in research projects with professors, fellows, and doctoral candidates at the MIT Media Lab, Harvard Graduate School of Education, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and Wellesley College. These projects allow EXPLO students to participate in cutting-edge research involving handheld devices, robots, and digital circuit design.
Senior members of EXPLO’s Leadership are often asked to consult with schools and other organizations. Ongoing work includes developing curriculum that leads to student engagement; how to build and manage student-centered learning environments; anti-bullying initiatives; and student leadership programs. Former work includes audits of health center and student life operations for boarding schools, as well as training school faculty on nurturing the emotional life of boys.
Experienced teachers from the U.S. and abroad are drawn to EXPLO for a variety of reasons, including teacher development workshops and online courses. In fact, each year, more than 100 seasoned educators participate in EXPLO’s teacher professional development sessions.
The Garrison-Forest School wanted to make sure that its middle school girls got some hands-on work in STEAM that would inspire these girls to pursue future studies in STEAM subjects, not because they have to, but because they want to. The School turned to EXPLO to ask if we might help. EXPLO designed a paper engineering course that was so successful it was the genesis of our new EXPLO Studio program where we are designing STEAM courses for a wide array of schools.
Debate and discussion among students of different backgrounds and beliefs has been a valued part of the EXPLO culture for almost forty years. In 2000, Moira Kelly, EXPLO’s president, was asked to join the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) as an associate producer and was subsequently appointed Director of Education and Outreach.
Most recently, Moira led a project, Join the Debates, with the CPD, PBS Education, and the National Governor’s Association. Drawing on the EXPLO Collaborative Discussion Method, debate toolkits including curriculum for students in grades 6-12 were mailed to 15,000 teachers throughout the United States and are available as free downloads to any educator at www.jointhedebates.org
In order to touch even more students than can be directly served at EXPLO’s summer programs, the organization has provided professional development for groups and organizations serving low-income students. Some examples include training for the staff of Sunflower County Freedom Project, which serves students in the Mississippi Delta, as well as members of the Summer Collaborative (Wilmington, DE), comprised of community center camp leadership and public school teachers in the Greater Wilmington area.