At New Roots, Learning By Doing

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By Sarah Rubenstein-Gillis

At New Roots Charter School, a new public high school in downtown Ithaca, our faculty, staff and community partners are preparing our students to understand that:

A)   They are not too young to make a difference.

B)    They have both the responsibility and the privilege to positively influence and transform the path that our community and world is taking.

An excerpt from our charter with New York State about why our approach is so important now:

The Imperative for Sustainability-Oriented Education:

“Our environmental crisis has resulted from technologies, lifestyle choices, and ways of thinking that human beings have developed and passed down over centuries. The solution to this crisis will require an education that directly addresses it, helping tomorrow’s citizens to develop new technologies, new lifestyle choices, and new ways of thinking. Sustainability education supports young people in developing the knowledge and skills they will need to create sustainable communities that are in balance with the ecological systems that support us. Not simply environmental education, sustainability education integrates the social, economic, and ecological dimensions of the human endeavor, emphasizing the relationship between all three of these critical realms and building young people’s competence as systems thinkers.”

Some of the ways that New Roots students are currently learning about and contributing to the sustainability of our local community include:

Farm-to School Program:  At New Roots, students gain hands-on experience with the many facets of our local food system. Each day, students help prepare and enjoy a healthful meal using as many local, seasonal and organic ingredients as possible.  This fall, all students visited local farms including West Haven Farm and Littletree Orchards.

Service-Learning Program: All New Roots students learn first-hand about community needs through ongoing service-learning, a method of teaching, learning and reflecting that combines academic classroom curriculum with meaningful service. Research consistently shows that service-learning is a powerful way to engage students with diverse learning styles and levels of academic achievement.

Current service-learning projects include reading/homework buddy groups at GIAC and Fall Creek After-School Program; teaching technology skills to older adults at Lifelong; playing games and doing crafts with residents at Beechtree Care Center; sewing fuel- and money-saving “door snakes” for low-income residents using salvaged fabric at Sew Green; building cold-frames with Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County for a Town of Ithaca community garden with locally-harvested locust wood; refurbishing and recycling used computers through the Ithaca Youth Bureau’s Computer All-Stars program; and forming a peer education mental health role-playing theatre troupe in collaboration with Suicide Prevention and Crisis Service.

– Community Internships and Apprenticeships: We are fortunate to live in a community where the old-fashioned value of learning-by-doing, alongside a caring and knowledgeable mentor, is still very much alive.  These experiences strengthen ties in the community, support the work of local organizations and build student’s skills… Students are currently placed in St. Paul’s Preschool, IACC Day Care, Serviente Glass Studio, The History Center, Ithaca Bakery, Scissorhands Salon, Greentar/Oasis, and Maguire Ford, Lincoln, Mercury, Nissan.

Expeditionary Learning: To develop innovative solutions to the challenges we face as world citizens, our students must experience, and learn from, the ways that our social, environmental, economic and other problems are currently being addressed. Our tenth grade conducted a multi-disciplinary investigation of the proposed Marcellus Shale drilling issue, exploring its social, economic, and environmental dimensions.  This project allows them to connect an important current issue in their community with their New York State Regents curriculum of global studies, geometry, and biology.

We anticipate that as New Roots students continue to develop their knowledge-base and leadership skills, we will help change perceptions about what teenagers can do, how they can contribute, and the responsibility of adults in the community to include teenagers in the problem-solving process. For more information, call New Roots Charter School at 882-9220 or visit us on the web at: New Roots Charter School.

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