The Greene School Story
A letter from our founder Dr. Amy Pratt:
I grew up with plenty of unstructured time in nature, I made discoveries about dandelion heads and pond lilies, egg cases, stream flow, pine needles, baby toads, bird nests, and snake skins. I was encouraged by my parents. As I consider today's youth and their experiences with science and the natural world, my worry is that science gets distilled down to a form that doesn't encourage exploration by our truly curious young scientists. Exploration leads to discovery and discovery leads to true learning.
I settled in to read "Last Child in the Woods" by Richard Louv. I encourage all to read this book, but especially people who are concerned about the future of passion for the exploration of science. I emerged from the read determined that it was time for action. For several years, I had chatted with some good clients, also mothers, about our children and concerns about their education. I renewed the discussion. Together with a core group of these clients, now friends and colleagues, we started monthly meetings to explore the possibility of starting an environmental school in Rhode Island. It was a long process, but we succeeded in opening a new charter high school with an environmental focus in September of 2010. Pioneering families sent 84 students in grades 9 and 10 to our temporary leased facility in West Greenwich, Rhode Island. Our board has expanded, but these core clients remain, steadfastly helping to create a true jewel for the State of Rhode Island.
To assure the development of a positive school culture and a curriculum where students can learn from real life experiences, we hired Expeditionary Learning Schools (www.elschools.org ). This nationwide nonprofit group formed as an offshoot of Outward Bound. By being associated with ELS, we are part of a family of 165 schools nationwide. The EL model is nationally recognized as being highly effective. We have 2 EL School Designers who help our Head of School and teachers develop and implement our own curriculum. Our teachers also have the support and professional development needed to improve and perfect their craft. The EL model believes that students learn best through discovery.
Our founding year was amazing! All soon came to realize that a school is truly a body of people working together to learn. Our three trimesters were all focused on Learning Expeditions based on environmental topics. The fall trimester focused on the floods of 2010. All teachers worked together to assure the statewide learning goals were reached, but through stream surveys, interviews with flooding victims, town planners, business owners, charting and graphing flood data, and writing.
The winter trimester focused on energy. On the first day back from winter break, students came in to a school without electricity save one classroom. The teachers feigned anger and frustration. Students stepped up and naturally became peacemakers and negotiators. What a great lesson in the battle of the “haves vs. have not’s”.
Spring trimester centered on food and local agriculture. The school read “Omnivores Dilemma” and worked through local farms and farmer’s markets. The students decided to make their work real by hosting a fundraising dinner for 50 people. The first annual Locally Grown and Served Dinner was a great success. After deciding that all ingredients must originate from within 100 miles of the school, the students planned, prepared and served up a wonderful meal and a fabulous evening. All were astounded!
We have students from urban, suburban, and rural settings state wide. In order to provide equal access by urban youth, we have purchased two school buses, run on biodiesel, to operate a route transporting students from Providence and other urban locations to our West Greenwich campus. In order to make a true difference to environmental education, it is imperative that students from all different backgrounds work together to expand the mutual understanding of environment as well as the human needs and their impact on the environment.
The Greene School is currently in it's 3rd year and we are going strong! We lease a facility in West Greenwich, but as we grow to serve 210 students by the 2013-2014 school year, we hope to guide a discussion on how to drive down the cost of building, operating, and maintaining a school and other municipal buildings, as well as how to minimize a building’s impact on its environment. We want our permanent school to integrate resource use, waste management, and sustainable design into the curriculum so that students will have a true understanding of their place in the environment and the effect of humans on the natural world.