Tuesday, June 10, 2014

"Out of the Box" for Intensives Week

We had such beautiful weather for Intensives Week courses last week  Here’s a glimpse of some of the highlights – a backpacking trip through the Finger Lakes National Forest, an excursion on Cayuga Lake with the Floating Classroom, and fun with pigs on a permaculture farm and education center in Cayutaville, NY.

Intensives Week at New Roots happens twice a year, in the fall and spring seasons.  Students choose from a wide array of elective courses that they study in depth with a teacher and a group of peers all day for a whole week.  Intensives Week is also an ideal time for an internship or educational trip.  Students earn .25 elective or core subject area credits towards graduation for their Intensives Week course.

One of the most exciting aspects of Intensives Week is that it allows teachers to bring their passions and avocations to their teaching, expressing their full range of interests and talents.  It also allows for sustained learning of depth and relationship-building between teachers and students that is difficult to achieve in other contexts.  Students and staff alike look forward to these opportunities to fully engage with one another around areas of mutual interest and passion.

As a point of interest -- some students chose “intensive” preparation for Regents exams, too, attacking the task with great gusto -- sometimes right through the lunch hour!!  I should have snapped a photo of Ms. Audrey’s “mastery box,” which makes review of the extensive body of knowledge that is US History into a science.  In addition to helping students feel confident about their exam preparation, this option supports the development of study skills and strategies that will serve students well throughout their educational careers.

No matter what choice a student makes, Intensives Week is a change of pace that offers new opportunities and challenges.  And it's a lot of fun, too!

Saturday, May 10, 2014


Our first-ever student-produced television show will air this evening, Saturday May 10, 2014 at 7 p.m. on local channel 16.  Check it out!

Produced by students in our videography expedition at the Pegasys studio on State Street, New Roots Now! features news and interviews with New Roots alumni, students, and staff members. 

As the New Roots Now! hosts explain, our videography expedition is a credit-bearing course offered at New Roots due to student interest and initiative.  A one-time workshop offered in Summer 2012 grew into a Video Club and now a learning expedition course.  

New Roots student videos have quickly found an audience beyond our school community.  They have been featured on a variety of organizations’ web sites, including one Spanish language video with international reach, and locally as part of the Get Your GreenBack Tompkins! campaign.

Powerhouse Spanish teacher Maria Gimma has supported the initiative of students Soren Mortensen, Emily Feaveryear, Emily Murphy, Drew Fenton-Bandurski, Mo Petkov, Irene Case, Antonio Triana, Caroline Syder and Allison Lash in taking on this ambitious project.  Not satisfied to rest on their laurels, they are already planning their next episode.

If you miss the first showing, don’t worry -- the episode will rerun on Wednesday, May 14 at 7:00 p.m., Saturday, May 24 at 7:00 p.m., and Wednesday, May 28 at 11:00 a.m.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Learning Expeditions: Connecting Classroom and Community

The world of education is like an island where people, cut off from the world, are prepared for life by exclusion from it.  – Maria Montessori, founder of the international Montessori education movement

Connecting classroom to community life is a core element of educating for sustainability at New Roots Charter School.  The benefits to students are many, well-documented in schools around the world:  learning is immediately relevant, students experience how knowledge is applied in the “real world,” and students learn new capacities in themselves as they stretch to engage in new experiences with their peers.

We want all students to enjoy the benefits of meaningful community learning, so we offer extended interdisciplinary courses with sustainability and justice themes that take students out of the building and into the community for extended three-hour “learning expeditions.” 

Freshmen take two “learning expedition” courses that introduce them to our region’s land and people:  Cayuga Watershed and Local Ecosystems.  In grades 10 and 11, students choose from options focusing on local food systems and farming, our region’s Haudenosaunee people and their culture, human rights, natural resources, and sustainable entrepreneurism. 

The perspective developed in these courses lays the groundwork for their senior team capstone project, which requires them to choose an issue of importance to the wider community and develop a solutions-oriented approach to addressing it.

Here are a few recent highlights from learning expeditions at New Roots:


As part of a unit on topography, water, and soil conservation, students learned to construct and use a method that farmers around the world use to measure contours on the land:  a simple but effective A frame.  Once contour lines are marked, a swale is dug using a hoe to create contours that slow and redirects the flow of surface and groundwater.  Over time the previously-sloped landscape begins to collect rich organic material and slowly transform into a series of terraces, increasing productivity and reducing soil erosion.


Students in "Discovering Our Region's Foodshed" expedition had the opportunity to taste honey fresh out of the hive while on a recent field trip to Three Swallows Farm, run by the Youth Farm Project.  The verdict was "it's delicious!"


Students broke into task forces to research and teach the rest of class about a topic of interest using an active, hands-on learning component.  One task force researched the significance of lacrosse to the Haudenosanee historically and today. They presented their findings to the class and gave them a lesson at the park.

New Roots students from the Cayuga Watershed expedition paired up with second grade students from BJM to check out the Beyond Earth Art exhibit, which included an opportunity to investigate the effects of oil spills on sea creatures. 

On a trip to the City of Ithaca's Water Treatment Plant, students gained an understanding of how the water from 6 Mile Creek is treated and made drinkable for the residents of Ithaca.