First Avenue's Exploratory Wheel Program Changes Students’ Lives

By AUSD Digital Communications Intern Lauryn Chao
First Ave Theatre Class
First Avenue Exploratory Wheel students make creative use of props and costumes in one of their introductory drama lessons.  (Photo Courtesy of FAMS Drama Director Susi Reck)

A multitude of First Avenue Middle School alumni have discovered their calling through a unique program First Avenue Spartans call the “Exploratory Wheel”. Within this program, sixth-grade students are rotated through four different core electives: art, industrial technology, drama, and home economics. Sixth-grade students are given a nine-week session in each of these courses wherein they explore the foundations of the elective. 

Established in 1998, the Exploratory Wheel program allows students to sample different creative mediums and discover which areas align with their interests. Over the course of this nine-week program, students have the opportunity to explore new subjects and find new interests and strengths, which helps them narrow their elective choices in their seventh and eighth grade years. Ultimately, the Exploratory Wheel experience helps students pave their path for their pursuits in high school. 

“First Avenue’s Whole Child philosophy is at the heart of our sixth grade Exploratory Wheel,” shared First Avenue Middle School Theatre Director Susi Reck. 

“The Wheel is specifically designed to provide all of our sixth-grade students with rich and engaging hands-on experiences in four of our core electives. These quarter-long classes become part of the shared culture of our school [and] serve to build community and enrich the connections among the students at First Avenue.”

Students participate in a diverse array of activities in these four core elective classes. Sixth graders are given the chance to design and construct rockets in industrial technology, master improvisation and stage directions in drama, create dazzling pieces of work in art, and adeptly whip up dishes in home economics. 

“Well, it's very exploratory in nature,” Reck explained. “The nine weeks the kids get in here give them a taste of all types of things. I think it’s a great way to transition kids [in their first year of middle school] into how special First Avenue is because our electives are such a big part of our program here.” 

According to Reck, First Avenue experimented with numerous schedules and formats before getting the Exploratory Wheel to where it is now. Within the past twenty-three years, the Exploratory Wheel has undergone several changes and altered the trajectory of many First Avenue Spartan’s high school careers. Students rotate through the elective wheel, gaining access to enriching courses that give students the opportunity to explore outside of their comfort zones. With this exploration taking place in a students’ first year of middle school, arguably one of the most developmental periods of their lives, they reap a myriad of benefits, such as gaining a more explicit understanding of what path or direction they want to head down for their studies and extracurricular pursuits. 

“Being able to experience all of the different electives was super eye-opening since I’ve played soccer since I was three years old and hadn’t explored much outside of that,” said Skye Escobedo, First Avenue alumna and current Arcadia High School sophomore soccer player and theatre fanatic

When asked about how the program caters to students, Escobedo continued, “I think oftentimes students don't have the time on their hands or even the money to be put into all of these different classes and activities, so having school provide that as a learning experience was very beneficial to myself and many others.”

Erika Speed, the Art Director at First Avenue, shared, “I love hearing stories about kids who come in [...] and can find their thing and go with it. It’s cool to be a part of helping kids discover interests or talents that they otherwise wouldn’t have been aware of.” 


First Ave Art elective class

First Avenue art students apply their knowledge in Speed’s Drawing and Painting class. (Photo Courtesy of First Avenue Art Director Erika Speed)


Though Exploratory Wheel teachers are only granted a brief amount of time with their sixth-grade students, it is clear the connections formed and lessons learned in these classes stand the test of time, as does the impact of the program itself in the lives and future pursuits of First Avenue Spartans. 


For more information about First Avenue Middle School, visit, and for additional information about the Arcadia Unified School District, visit