Learning by doing

Napa is our classroom.

The founders of Blue Oak School intentionally located our campus in downtown Napa to leverage our proximity to the community in support of our students’ learning. Blue Oak teachers regularly take our students out of the gates of the school grounds to learn in the authentic context of our neighborhood community.

From exploration treks to local landmarks in second and third grades, to measuring water current in the Napa River in seventh grade to a variety of activities at Fuller Park throughout the year, our students and teachers regularly access our broader community to elevate the learning process and make it more relevant to the lives of our students.

Service Learning

Learning through service is an integrated aspect of the Blue Oak experience. One of the ways this happens is through our jobs program, with each grade level having a specific responsibility for some aspect of caring for and maintaining our school community. A component of service is also embedded into our model for middle school Exploratory classes which guides all middle school students to opt for at least one service-related Exploratory class each year. Students also have the opportunity to initiate a service project.

In recent years, students in both second and third grade, as well as the entire middle school division have led food drives. Middle school students have also donated funds raised through the dances they host. Most recently funds were sent to Maui to help support recovery from the recent fires.


teens hiking at sunrise

BreakAway! is a cornerstone program at Blue Oak School, pioneered by our founding faculty and the founding Head of School, Scott Duyan, who introduced the concept from his prior tenure at Catlin Gabel School in Portland, Oregon. BreakAway! presents a unique opportunity for both students and educators to immerse themselves in a comprehensive, concentrated learning environment spanning two and a half consecutive days. This program offers a break from the day-to-day classroom setting and routine, allowing participants to engage with a diverse group of peers across different age groups while exploring questions about the world tailored to their interests. While our daily curriculum already encompasses a wide range of experiences uncommon in typical school settings, BreakAway! takes this a step further by providing students with the chance to delve deeply into a line of inquiry for a brief period.

The primary objective of BreakAway! is to afford students the opportunity to explore subjects that intrigue them, continuing to nurture their curiosity and deepen their engagement. Throughout these quests, participants embark on a diverse range of learning excursions, often extending beyond the confines of Napa. Trips may include visits to coastal areas, San Francisco, Sacramento, the East Bay, and other locales, all carefully selected to align with the thematic focus of each BreakAway! adventure.

Crafted deliberately by Blue Oak educators, BreakAway! courses are tailored not only to cater to contemporary student interests but also to provide authentic, real-life exposure to various disciplines such as arts, sciences, technology, and humanities. Participants can anticipate transformative experiences, whether unraveling the intricacies of the music industry, studying entomology or space exploration, or gaining practical insights into community planning. We earnestly hope that each participant’s journey yields enduring memories, enriching their educational experience and encapsulating the essence of a Blue Oak education.

Exploratory Courses in Middle School

“The middle school student may be a walking contradiction, but the opportunity to change the shape of their brains is still one of our greatest challenges—and our greatest opportunities.” -David Vawter

Middle school is a time of growth and discovery, and the Middle School Exploratories allow students to choose their own classes within the academic day. Students appreciate the ability to have a voice in their education, the option to learn practical skills and explore topics that could lead to defining a career path. Teaching them early to have a sense of ownership prepares them to be better decision-makers in the future.

The new Blue Oak Exploratory Model gives opportunities for deeper research and inquiry around a specific topic. Exploratory options are grouped into four categories: STEAM, Arts & Letters, Body & Movement, Service. Many offerings could be placed in more than one of these categories.

As we continue to develop this program, we are hoping to include other adults in the community with passions and knowledge to share. Parents, guardians, and other friends of the Blue Oak community are welcome to lead an exploratory or partner with a faculty member to be a guest presenter or co-teacher.

Trips Program

Blue Oak School is committed to providing students with meaningful experiential learning opportunities at each grade level. This essential part of our program provides age appropriate opportunities for exploration and discovery in a variety of natural habitats. These experiences nurture essential life skills such as teamwork, resilience, problem-solving, and leadership. By stepping outside their comfort zones and navigating unfamiliar environments, students develop confidence, adaptability, and a deeper understanding of themselves and the world around them.

In the lower grades, our students embark on day trips to local parks, streams, nature preserves and gardens, where they engage in activities that stimulate their curiosity and ignite their sense of wonder. These excursions not only supplement classroom learning but also provide opportunities for hands-on exploration, scientific inquiry, and environmental stewardship. As students progress through the grades, our outdoor education experiences become increasingly immersive and transformative. In middle school we partner with Academic Expeditions and Nature Bridge who provide expert instruction and programs in some of the most spectacular environments in California.

At Blue Oak School, we recognize that education is not confined to the four walls of a classroom, but extends into our Napa neighborhoods and to the spectacular natural world beyond. By embracing experiential and outdoor education, we empower our students to become lifelong learners and compassionate leaders. Outdoor education at Blue Oak fosters a sense of stewardship and environmental consciousness, instilling in our students an appreciation for the natural world and a commitment to its preservation. As future leaders and global citizens, our students carry with them important lessons learned in the park down the street or on the trail in Yosemite.