The environmental sustainability efforts of Dr. Wangari Maathai (HWS parent ’94 and ’96), Nobel Peace Prize laureate and recent recipient of the Colleges’ Elizabeth Blackwell Award, has inspired a group in Ithaca to work to obtain a NYS charter for a new alternative public high school in Ithaca, New Roots School. Tina Nilson-Hodges, of EcoVillage-Ithaca and Ithaca College, is the leader of the group and presented Maathai with a plaque honoring her inspirational role in the formation of New Roots School at the Blackwell Award ceremony this April. Since then, Hobart and William Smith have developed another connection to the school through Assistant Professor of Education Paul Kehle, whose specialty is mathematics education. After meeting Nilson-Hodges, Kehle was interested in the opportunity to help create an alternative mathematics curriculum driven by the theme of environmental sustainability. At HWS, Kehle also teaches in the environmental studies program, so working with the New Roots group enables him to combine his interests in mathematics, education and the environment. “The application process for a new charter school is potentially overwhelming,” says Kehle. “Tina and her group have done a tremendous amount of exceptional work.” Once New Roots School is granted its charter, Kehle looks forward to providing guidance and professional development as the school opens its doors in the fall of 2009 and begins to implement its vision for sustainable education. A recent article in the Ithaca Journal cites HWS among the area colleges partnering with the group behind New Roots School. The complete text of the article follows.
Ithaca Journal Planned charter school would teach sustainability By Linda Stout • Journal Staff • May 29, 2008 ITHACA — An alternative high school focused on sustainability could emerge as an Ithaca College lecturer leads the effort to apply for charter school status. Tina Nilsen-Hodges, who first called for creation of the school, plans to apply to the Charter Schools Institute in June and hopes to hear about the application to become a charter school this fall. New Roots School is envisioned as a small high school — up to about 175 students in grades 9-12 focused on sustainability — and is slated to open in the fall of 2009, if not as a charter school, perhaps as a private school. Nilsen-Hodges said she wants to start up in the fall of 2009 with up to 100 ninth- and 10th-grade students. Her group, with parents and advisers from nearby universities and colleges, proposes having classrooms somewhere in downtown Ithaca. Students would also work at local farms and businesses, widening the campus. Nilsen-Hodges has worked toward establishing this school for six years. She teaches in the Environmental Studies department at Ithaca College and is finishing New York State School Building Leader certification requirements. She is one of the founders of Teachers for a Sustainable Future, a learning circle for teachers, and has facilitated workshops in sustainability education at both the kindergarten through high school and college levels locally. She recently did an internship at Lehman Alternative Community School under the principal there, Joe Greenberg. Greenberg, a New Roots School board member, co-founded and taught at an independent democratic high school on the coast of Maine. Nilsen-Hodges proposes combining New York State Regents course requirements with training that could develop entrepreneurs with an ecological emphasis. Other partners so far include faculty from Cornell, Tompkins Cortland Community College, Ithaca College and Hobart and William Smith Colleges, which are helping to create curriculums and develop programs. At West Haven Farm at EcoVillage they are likely to work on the farm doing things like soil analysis. Produce from West Haven Farm will be part of the school’s meal program, she said. “There’s been tremendous community and parent support,” Nilsen-Hodges said. She imagines that students could, for instance, restore wetlands, conduct climate-related agricultural research, bring solar panels to low-income neighborhoods and create small green business enterprises. She sees students becoming entrepreneurs and community leaders, she said. Although Nilsen-Hodges lives at EcoVillage at Ithaca — and some classroom space may be located there — it’s not planned as an EcoVillage school but an Ithaca school potentially open to any student in Tompkins County, she said. Strong interest Nilsen-Hodges believes there’s a strong local interest in alternative schools evidenced by long waiting lists at Lehman Alternative Community School, the district’s public middle and high school in the district where students apply and then are selected through a lottery. The alternative school has about 250 students and operates much like a small college campus offering project-based learning, trips and student-led things like a student-run cafe. “In any given year, LACS is able to admit about 30-40 percent of the fifth graders that apply for sixth-grade openings. This year, there were 98 applicants for 36 openings. LACS usually has up to 20 openings for students in grades 7-12 in any given year. There are currently over 300 students on the waiting list for next year for grades seven through 12,” she said. Nilsen-Hodges said New Roots School is inspired by the United Nations Decade for Education and Sustainable Development’s call to integrate sustainability education into daily school practices along with identification of local sustainability challenges. She wants the student body to represent the demographics of the area and for students to gain consistent attention over years from the same teachers and community leaders. Nilsen-Hodges expects New Roots School will open even if the charter is not approved. She said, “If we don’t get a charter, we have two options: We can make a formal proposal to the Ithaca City School District to open as another small high school within the district, or we can open as a private school.” The school already has a Web site, www.newrootsschool.org.