GEMS Frequently Asked Questions

Graham Elementary and Middle School (GEMS) Frequently Asked Questions

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

Yes, The Graham School (TGS) was started in 2000 by our school’s leaders, Greg Brown and Dr. 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 at Ohio Dominican University (TCS) in 2007. TCS, and Early College High School, has an experiential focus with college courses beginning in their third year on campus at Ohio Dominican University and Columbus State Community College. TCS is a five-year high school where students are able to receive their high school diploma and up to 62 hours of college credit from ODU free. TGS and TCS, both Ohio public community schools, are free to residents of Ohio just like traditional public school districts.

If my student attends GEMS, will they be able to automatically be enrolled at TGS or TCS?
Because GEMS, TGS, and TCS are separate schools under charter school law, we cannot promise that your student will automatically be enrolled in at TGS or TCS once he/she has advanced from GEMS. However, we inform families at GEMS of enrollment dates and application information when available.

How is EL Education teaching different than traditional teaching?
GEMS teachers work together to create a curriculum that connects our academic disciplines (math, science, language arts, social studies, and art). Learning expeditions are investigations of compelling topics, based on the Common Core and state standards, and include several subject areas. Learning hands-on with a focus on creating high quality products that exemplify content knowledge and development. Students conduct research, gain critical thinking skills, leave the campus for purposeful fieldwork and work 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 is 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 seventeen years, does not evaluate students with traditional report cards. Instead, GEMS uses grade term narratives, passage portfolios, and other summative assessments as well as 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.

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.

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. The student is on the way toward meeting expectations but is not there yet.

JB (Just Beginning): The student is so inconsistent with producing/ demonstrating work or participation that adequate understanding is not established.

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. These evaluations are universally transferable to high schools, colleges and universities.

Is GEMS open to students on an intervention plan?
Yes, 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 EL Education is an effective model?
Extensive research on the EL Education model, along with small school success statistics, indicate that the model is very effective for all types of students. Please visit the EL Education website for further information.

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 in grade level subject teams 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 scheduled professional development days and weekly meetings dedicated to collaboration and planning.

What will the school and class sizes be?
We have about 425 students in grades K-8 with class sizes of about 20-25 students. 

Will there be a lot of field trips?
Students will be doing fieldwork off campus at various times. They will also 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. All travel and other expenses are paid for by the school as part of its annual budget.

Will the school meet state standards? What about the Common Core State Standards?
Yes, all learning expeditions begin with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) or the state standards if there are not any CCSS for a subject area, which are 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 administer all state-mandated exams including the OST.  Further, we utilize Measures of Academic Progress (MAP), STAR (5-8), and other assessments to help gauge student progress and achievement.

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. Student responsibility will be visited on an individual basis to compliment these efforts. Further, we work with students through difficult situations and institute restorative practice to help engage them in the process to take responsibility for their actions and help make right the situation that was wronged.

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 Education schools been started?
Currently, there are about 170 EL Education schools (primary, middle, and secondary) within the US. EL Education was formed about 35 years ago and continues to grow as a network of schools. For more information on other EL Education schools, please visit

Where can I find more information?
Find updates, news and other information on our schools’ 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 on our website.

Will transportation be provided?
Columbus City Schools will provide busing to students living in the district. Applications for receiving transportation will be available early in the 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 the GEMS.

Does GEMS do work with students related to careers?
Yes.  GEMS introduces a wide range of potential careers to elementary and middle school students through speakers, class activities, crew, and expeditions.

Does GEMS offer a Career Technical Education (CTE) program?
GEMS does not have CTE classes yet, but us working towards this goal specifically in Information Technology.  Both of our high schools, The Graham School and The Charles School at Ohio Dominican University have CTE programs.  GEMS students are given foundational career exploration and will be prepared to take the Information Technology CTE pathway classes at our high schools.  We believe strongly in preparing our students with life-long skills that will enhance their abilities to have successful and meaningful careers and lives post graduation. 

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