History & Mission


Alma del Mar - Student

Alma del Mar (“Soul of the Sea”) is a K-8 Expeditionary Learning public charter school that opened in August 2011 in New Bedford, Massachusetts. We are committed to setting all of  our students on a college trajectory and challenging them to be service-minded leaders.

By engaging in a rigorous academic program with an emphasis on meaningful work, our students master essential skills and content, take ownership of their learning and think boldly while addressing complex academic and community issues.



Founder Will Gardner conceived of the idea for Alma del Mar while running an afterschool program for middle school students in New Bedford.

Alma del Mar - Founder Will GardnerWe were making a real impact,” he reflects, “but I kept wondering what our students could do if they were provided with more challenge and more support beginning at an earlier age. Once I began talking with parents about the idea of starting college preparation in kindergarten, we all got really excited.”

This initial excitement inspired Will and a small group of parents and community leaders to begin the process of designing the school and applying for its charter. Over the course of two years, Will and a dedicated group of volunteers crafted the vision for Alma del Mar by identifying areas of educational need in New Bedford and seeking out like-minded educators who were already addressing similar needs successfully. With an initial proposal in hand, the team went door-to-door throughout New Bedford to pitch the idea to parents and hear from families about their educational needs and aspirations. The tight-knit community among Alma families began with the founding group’s conversations with New Bedford parents in living rooms and kitchens.

Alma del Mar was granted a charter in 2011, one of the most competitive years for charter applications in Massachusetts’ history. In March 2011, Alma del Mar held its first public lottery to admit 120 founding scholars in grades K-2. After hiring its founding team and reaching an agreement with Mayor Scott Lang to lease a former district school building, Alma del Mar opened its doors in August 2011.

Since opening, Alma del Mar has added an additional grade each year and will continue to grow until serves a total of 360 scholars in grades K-8. Alma del Mar has become known for its unique blend of a “no excuses” culture with a content-rich, Expeditionary Learning curriculum. After only several years of operation, Alma has become the most sought after elementary school among New Bedford parents. Most importantly, Alma scholars are already beginning to close the achievement gap between kids in New Bedford and their more affluent peers.  Alma scholars grow the equivalent of nearly a grade and a half each year in reading ability and are earning math scores on the MCAS that surpass those of nearby suburban districts. In addition to excelling on traditional measures of achievement, Alma scholars are producing phenomenal work that serves to teach and inspire their peers and the wider community.

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“Alma del Mar has become known for its unique blend of a ‘no excuses’ culture with a content-rich,   Expeditionary Learning curriculum."