2010-02-18 / News

Environmental charter school to open this September

By Eileen M. Daly

Non-traditional learners whose idea of the perfect learning environment involves lots of fresh air and blue skies will soon have reason to rejoice. The Greene School, a new charter high school scheduled to open in September, 2010 may just be their idea of heaven in a high school.

According to Paul Morse, a Greene School board member and Jamestown resident, the school — located on the W. Alton Jones Campus of the University of Rhode Island — will be open to high school students from across the state and will focus on environmental education and civic responsibility.

Though the school will be tuition-free to students from anywhere in Rhode Island, Jamestown students will receive the added benefit of free busing, as the school will be located within the district, he said.

Morse said the school’s curriculum will focus on environmental research in a real world-learning environment while still meeting or exceeding all of the state high school requirements, as well as standard college admission requirements, such as foreign language credits.

“This will be a college preparatory high school with a rigorous academic curriculum,” he said, adding that students will be involved in research projects in conjunction with the University of Rhode Island and will work with organizations such as Save the Bay and other environmental groups.

“Students will participate in hands-on, meaningful learning,” he said. “For instance, one of the things they might do is create a field guide and then publish and sell it.”

The school is sponsored by the Audubon Society of Rhode Island and will embrace the philosophies of Expeditionary Learning Schools Outward Bound, Morse said. According to its website, ELS is a national, non-profit organization that opens new elementary, middle and college-oriented secondary schools, and partners with existing schools. ELS schools feature “an experiential and project-based” approach that involves students “in original research – with experts – to create high-quality products for audiences beyond the classroom.”

The Greene School is scheduled to open with ninth- and tenthgrade classes consisting of 42 students each, with plans to build over the next several years to include grades 9-12 for a total student population of between 220 and 250 students, Morse said.

He also said that students who are currently in the ninth grade, who are struggling or unable to fit well within a traditional high school model or who may simply be interested in an environmental program of studies, can apply for entrance to the Greene school as entering grade 10 students.

Morse attributed the idea behind the school to veterinarian Amy Pratt, who he said was inspired by a book called “Last Child in the Woods.”

According to Morse, the book discusses the possibility that an “unnatural learning environment,” such as one in which there is not enough time outdoors, has impacted learning in a negative way and contributed to the rising number of children diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder.

After reading the book, Morse said, Pratt then partnered with Kathleen Swann, who has a Ph.D. in education, and together they researched the laws regarding charter schools. Grants were then secured from the federal government and the R.I. Foundation, and the Greene School was on its way to becoming a reality, he said.

Morse said his own involvement as a board member came about because he is “a big proponent of charter schools.”

Although he acknowledged that North Kingstown High School does a “great job,” he sees traditional high schools as effective only for children who “fit that model,” he said, adding that he is concerned about children who may not be such a good fit.

“I want to help create alternative models for kids,” he said. “Models that non-traditional students who don’t have access to private schools can nonetheless find uplifting. I want kids to be able to feel good about themselves, to succeed and do well.”

Morse is scheduled to speak about the Greene School during the March 4 meeting of the Jamestown School Committee. Interested applicants can also find more information about the school at www.thegreeneschool.org and about the ELS model itself at www.elschools.org.

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