Growing Up Green I Charter Elementary School
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A progressive, hands-on approach to learning with an environmental theme
Two sites one-half mile apart
With a greenhouse, a chicken coop, plants in the classrooms and an egg-laying duck named Walter, this charter school offers kids the chance to "grow up green," as its name suggests. Kids sail on a schooner at South Street Seaport to learn about the history of exploration, build shelters in Central Park to learn how Native Americans lived, or visit the Queens Botanical Garden to study "Trees and Me."
"We probably go on more field trips than any other school in the city," said founding principal Matthew Greenberg, who blends the progressive practices honed at Manhattan School for Children and Bank Street with lessons in building community he learned at a Catholic school, where he also taught.
This charter school, opened in 2009, is meeting its mission so well that it's being cloned, with a new school of the same name opening in 2016. Greenberg was tapped to be executive director of both.
Students here are assertive and eager to defend their positions. One class discussed writing a persuasive essay to the mayor and a judge urging them to reconsider the reversal of the ban on Styrofoam lunch trays. Citing research, one girl pointed out both sides of the issue.
The elementary school, housed in a former Catholic school building has an old wing, complete with old-fashioned cloak rooms, and a brighter newer wing. Every inch of space is used. There is no library, so the corridors, some rather dimly lit, house the school's books, including those used for Read-180, a program for struggling readers. Twelve staff members share the main office, and special education guidance providers are in side-by-side small cubicles off the multi-purpose gym. Fortunately many staff members have been around since the school's inception and seem to get along well. Several bring their own children to the school and, as of 2016, it is written into the school charter that staff children get priority in admissions, in the same way that siblings do.
Class size is about 28 per classroom in the elementary school, but with at least two teachers in each classroom, it seems manageable. There are 24 students per class at the growing middle school.The middle school, located about a half mile away at36-49 11th Street,opened with a 6th grade in 2014 in a space formerly used as a pre-kindergarten. It is still being refitted for adolescents. There is a small outdoor yard, with some picnic tables and basketball hoops but no gymnasium. It is a long walk from the nearest subway train too.
The green theme continues, encompassing not only recycling and the environment, but also community service. Every morning begins with an advisory, teaching organizational skills and addressing social-emotional issues.
There is a Regents track class in math and science, and some students take algebra and the Earth science Regents. Sixth-grade English students, were doing a poetry slam about "where I come from"; 7th-graders were tackling Shakespeare and reading "Macbeth," learning how Shakespeare's language differs from today's vernacular. Music students finishing a unit on Martin Luther King, Jr., learned freedom and protest songs and were asked to create a song or poem of their own.
About 75 percent of the elementary students stay for middle school; other popular choices are the Baccalaureate School for Global Education, Young Women's Leadership School and Hunter's Point Community Middle School. Members of first graduating class of 8th graders in 2017 were accepted to a wide range of high schools including Stuyvesant, Frank Sinatra, Beacon, Townsend Harris and LaGuardia.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: There is an ICT class on every grade, SETSS, and services such as speech and occupational therapy, as well as lots of supports within classrooms.
ADMISSIONS: District 30 lottery; priority to siblings and children of staff members. In 2015 there were 1,600 applicants for 125 spots school-wide. Growing Up Green accepts students on every grade level, as spaces open up. (Pamela Wheaton, January 2016; updated March 2017 with high school admissions information)