Paonia Experiential Leadership Academy

A nonprofit organization

$7,063 raised by 51 donors

6% complete

$125,000 Goal

The Paonia Experiential Leadership Academy is a non-profit private secondary school (6th-12th) in a small agricultural valley in Western Colorado. We are a student-centered school; we collaborate with students and parents to facilitate meaningful experiential learning field trips that develop the head, heart, and hands of the student. We focus on fostering student wellbeing by educating students about their health, environment, social and civic connections, happiness, self-expression, productive work skills, spirit, and their security and safety. We integrate these realms of wellbeing with core academic content to create meaningful learning opportunities. We focus on  process, accountability, and quality.

Here is a podcast with our Director speaking about the benefits of a wellbeing focused education.

The Next Generation: Raising Our Kids to Be Leaders for These Times with Dr. Emily Wassell

Here is a newspaper article about one of our graduates

Here is a video series from our collaboration with North Fork Senior Connections


Our mission is to humanize the educational experience, increase long-term student wellbeing, and to send capable, compassionate leaders into the world who understand how to thrive in our constantly changing environment.

Background Statement

The founders of the school, Emily & Phil Wassell have both been educators for the past 2 decades. They both have Masters in Teaching degrees. After getting her PhD in Education, Emily was fully aware of the challenges within current educational models. Her dissertation work focused on the science of wellbeing, and looking to quantum models for leadership rather than Newtonian structures. From 2014-2017, Emily designed the school. The Paonia Experiential Leadership Academy admitted the first students in the fall of 2017. We started with only a few students, in a personal van, meeting at the local park.

Paonia is a unique town where there are both a Montessori as well as a Waldorf inspired k-6 district supported options. Paonia is also a unique town because of the high concentration of nonprofits, retirees, artists, farmers, and entrepreneurs. Paonia is located in Delta county, which has an average per capita income of $22, 080 a year (data from the 2010 census). The challenge for parents has been a lack of alternatives for secondary school. The lack of high-paying jobs means that as a school we have a responsibility to offer an affordable and unique opportunity for families interested in an experiential option.

Organization Data


Organization name

Paonia Experiential Leadership Academy

other names


Year Established


Tax id (EIN)



Education, Youth Development, Community Improvement & Capacity Building, Arts, Culture & Humanities, Environment

Organization Size

Medium Organization


PAONIA, CO 81428

Service areas

Paonia, CO, US, 81428

Crawford, CO, US

Hotchkiss, CO, US

Somerset, CO, US, 81434



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