How can we change education in the U.S. and put the focus back on inspiring kids to become knowledgeable empowered scholars that are prepared for the future? Many respond that charter schools are the answer.
Since the first charter school opened in Minnesota in 1992, the charter school movement has forged forward becoming a new way to shape education. Now there are over 6,000 charter schools in the U.S. and over 280 in Texas alone.
Charter schools operate under the same federal laws as public schools, covering equal rights and access to discrimination. Charter schools are open enrollment lottery systems that cannot charge tuition. They are exempt from state or local rules that inhibit flexible management. Therefore, charter schools are granted the freedom to create their own unique mission and vision. This mission is the work of the creative minds of the charter school founders and can focus on low-income students, athletics, or most recently on the rise, green and/or sustainable charter schools.
A mission that weaves the world’s environmental challenges into interactive and hands-on curriculum is at the heart of most green charter schools. The hope is to empower students by submersing them into the environment and utilizing the outdoors as a teaching tool. Green charter schools hope by providing opportunities for outdoor exploration starting at an early age, they will provide a hands-on approach to education and create well-rounded students that realize the connectivity of the environment and their world.
Green charter schools present children with access to the outdoors, something on the decline in today’s world. More children are spending their time inside compared to just 30 years ago. According to the CDC, children are six times more likely to play a video game on a typical day than to ride a bike. Richard Louv has coined a term regarding children’s lack of exposure to the outdoors, nature deficit disorder, in his book, Last Child in the Woods. Louv says, “We have entered a new era of suburban sprawl that restricts outdoor play, in conjunction with a plugged-in culture that draws kids indoors.” Many green charter schools see their schools as an important way to combat nature deficit disorder. Green charter schools attempt to reignite children’s fascination with the outdoors through classes utilizing the environment as a tool.
Green charter schools are popping up across the country meshing outdoor and indoor classrooms to create scholars ready to take on the world’s environmental challenges. In a city not especially known for it’s green practices, Dallas, a small group of teachers are working hard to open a green charter school. Trinity Environmental Academy will be an urban school located on the edge of the Great Trinity Forest, over 6,000 acres of urban forest along the Trinity River. The founder, Jennifer Hoag, a teacher at a current charter school in Dallas, wanted to provide a free alternative, open to all kids interested in enrolling in a school that puts a real world approach on their education.
The founder’s dreams are to host a school that gets kids hands dirty in the environment while carrying out their project based learning. Mrs. Hoag had a late start getting out into nature. “I didn’t go camping until I was 21, and I realized I had been missing out on something for 21 years!” said Mrs. Hoag. Her hope is to provide the same joy and experience she had in nature to all kids lives. Access to the forest for everyday exploring, canoeing in the Trinity River and working in the community garden will all be valuable resources to engage students in Texas State Standards, without the four wall structure. All of this, in an urban area positioned just miles from the skyscrapers of downtown Dallas.
Trinity Environmental Academy is very interested in prepping students for the future through sparking their interest in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields. The STEM crisis is apparent in K-12 schools in the U.S. with stats such as 67% and 56% of high school graduates are not ready for college level science and math, respectively. The STEM job market increases while students educated and trained in STEM declines. Throughout the country in the public, private and charter sections, educators are trying to address this issue.
Green charter schools offer a solution in K-12 schools, and Trinity Environmental Academy is jumping on board. Charter schools have the freedom to tackle that issue with creative curriculum. Trinity Environmental Academy has plans to gather high quality environmental educators in the area to create interactive and engaging STEM curriculum in the middle school and high school age groups. With a strong focus on engineering they hope to not only keep the interest of the students in STEM but also expose them to careers that have a STEM and environmental focus.
Nature deficit disorder, the stem crisis, and education reform seem like big challenges to tackle. The success of green charter schools relies on their simplicity and creativity to teach our youth in a well-rounded way. For the founders of these green charter schools it’s in their hands to create a model of success the rest of our education system can look to for answers.
The Trinity Environmental Academy will submit a charter application to the Texas Education Agency at the end of March 2014. They hope to open their doors Fall 2015 with a K-1 and 6-grade classroom.
To find out more or support Trinity Environmental Academy visit dallasgreenlearning.org.
Picture of child in the forest via usgbcc4.org