Throughout the year, New Roots students joined staff and administrators in an initiative called “Teaching Our Cities.” Funded through a mini-grant from the Environmental Protection Agency, we were able to participate in a year-long collaboration between six urban environmental public schools throughout the Northeast to answer one driving question: “What if urban public schools embraced their cities, rooted themselves in their urban environments, and turned those places into an extension of their classrooms?” To that end, our students and staff have traveled to schools in Connecticut and Rhode Island to critically examine our curricula and practices, to learn from other like-minded schools, and to begin the work of dismantling and reconstructing the classroom paradigm. When we returned to our own campus, it was time to roll up our sleeves and really get to work.
Members of the Teaching Our Cities group joined together in a week-long intensives course where students worked with our principal and founder to redesign our curriculum, with our outreach coordinator to envision next year’s Sense of Place experience, and with our lower school English teacher to develop photo and video documentation showing how New Roots teaches using the city of Ithaca as a rich landscape for instruction.
During that week, our students went out into the community on multiple occasions in order to gain inspiration from other intensives taking place. The documentation team highly enjoyed doing on-site interviews with students, staff, and community coordinators as we visited intensives taking place throughout Ithaca: computer repair at Cornell University, urban gardening at the permaculture garden at Conley Park, the Cayuga Lake wetlands restoration work taking place at Stewart Park, hiking up Cascadilla Gorge with the walking history tour group, and of course, getting live footage of our very own steel drum ensemble as they performed on the streets of Ithaca right outside of the Clinton House.
When we finally made our way back to the classroom, our students were bursting with ideas and inspiration. Going into next year, it is exciting to know that our instruction will be influenced by not only our vibrant community but also by the inspired ideas that came from our Teaching Our Cities student team.
Curious to learn more? Check out a toolkit focused on our work to build a Sense of Place among New Roots students.