Ford Foundation Grant Opens Doors to Exploration

The Gregory School is Only Arizona School to Receive Funding

By Valerie Vinyard

The Gregory School’s Friday Exploration program is one that sets its curriculum apart from most schools.

Friday Exploration classes provide a slate of various subjects and ideas for students to try under mentorship of their teachers and guest speakers. The classes are beyond the regular schedule of classes taken during the rest of the week.

In November, the school was awarded a $250,000 grant from the Edward E. Ford Foundation, which will be matched giving the school a half million dollars to enhance the Friday Exploration program and provide faculty and staff with professional development opportunities.

“I couldn’t be more grateful, excited and proud to be an EE Ford Leadership Grant recipient,” said Head of School Julie Sherrill. “Their approval affirms the great work that our faculty and staff have devoted to this exceptional learning delivery system.”

On the school’s website at, the Friday Exploration program is described as follows:

“Friday Explorations provide the opportunity for students to sign up for courses that allow them to explore a subject more deeply or in a new direction, augment their learning, or try something entirely new. The program was created intentionally with a number of goals in mind, including ensuring that our 6 Cs (communication, creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, community and compassion) are integrated throughout a student’s time at TGS.”

Students at The Gregory School attend classes as part of their regular curriculum Monday through Thursday then take part in the Friday Exploration classes at the end of each week.

Flexibility in the schedule allows students to participate in projects across academic disciplines, engage with guest speakers, spend extended time in labs and field study, and take off-campus excursions.

The bulk of the grant will be used to create a “technological infrastructure” needed to build a library of the contents of the more than 2,500 Friday Exploration classes that have been developed in the program and create a searchable database. That will allow the program to be shared while also establishing a resource for the long-term future of the program.

“Such a resource will be invaluable in faculty planning, student advising, and onboarding new faculty and staff to the school,” the school said in its grant application to the EE Ford Foundation.

“The grant will not only help us improve our program,” Sherrill said, “but it will enable us to share our protocols with other independent schools throughout the country.”

The proposal described the program as one that began “organically” during the 2014-2015 school year and was seen as an important component of the school’s efforts to provide a unique learning opportunity that might also be attractive to prospective students and their families.

Since 2015, enrollment at the school has jumped from 253 to 368.

Board VP Jennifer Lee Carrell, whose daughter attends The Gregory School, said the program “makes it possible for students to try out lots of different subjects and ideas – to get a flavor for different subjects and try something new. It’s a great addition to the solid core offerings. I look at the offerings and wind up envious of my daughter, thinking, ‘I want to try that one and that one and that one.’ 

“Kind of like standing in front of the ice-cream case at the Hub: The Explorations let you try a little taste of a lot of different flavors – many you would never have dreamed up on your own, but they turn out to be wonderful.”

Applying for one of these grants is a detailed, rigorous and highly competitive process. According to the foundation’s website, this highly selective grant is awarded to schools “for direct application to program initiatives in support of faculty, students or the development of the educational program.” The Gregory School is the only Arizona school to receive the grant. 

“It was an honor to represent the school and our board of trustees at the meeting in New York City,” Sherrill said. “The EE Ford trustees with whom I met were very curious about our work and seemingly pleased to learn more about this very special school in the Southwest.”


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