New Roots School
New Roots School
9–12th Grade
116 North Cayuga Street
Ithaca, NY 14851
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Tina Nilsen-Hodges
Principal & Superintendent

New Roots School

About New Roots School

New Roots Charter School is a small urban public high school located in the heart of Ithaca, New York. Our mission to educate for sustainability and justice by fostering understanding of the human and natural history of our city and region, and creating strong, respectful working relationships between people of diverse ethnic, racial, and socioeconomic backgrounds.

Our place provides the perfect learning laboratory for the study of the relationship between human and natural systems, the dynamics of racial and economic injustice as drivers of city development, and the impacts of human activity on the ecology of a place. Our four-year curriculum is explicitly designed to reflect sustainability and justice themes and standards, with measured outcomes related to leadership and entrepreneurial thinking. Our program is designed so that students in our lower school have regular field experiences to learn about our place, and that our upper school students identify and act on an issue impacting our community’s sustainability through a Senior Team Capstone project. Our students’ first level of engagement is our day-to-day experience of being part of our downtown community. Our school is located in the historic Clinton House, just a block away from the heart of our city center, the Commons, and bus lines that provide transportation to both other areas of the city and to the region. Our students use facilities within walking distance for dining, physical fitness, assemblies, and other school events.

Our schedule is structured to allow teachers and students to use our urban environment as a learning laboratory on a daily and weekly basis. All core courses are scheduled for three 50- minute periods and one 80-minute block per week, allowing for fieldwork and service learning related to course themes to happen during regular class periods. Our lower school students – freshmen and sophomores – are scheduled for a weekly team-taught, interdisciplinary course that meets in a two-hour block that we call Humanities Expedition, the focus of which is learning about engaging with the local community and natural environment. Our two sections of freshman English and Global Studies classes are also scheduled for back-to-back periods so that teachers can elect to combine the two periods for longer investigations or projects. Our seniors take a course that allows them time for their capstone work and investigations of a local sustainability issue and take action on it. We also offer a three-hour internship block weekly for upper school students. All students participate in school governance through a system involving advisory, Student Council, and Community Meetings.

Other structures in place include Intensives Week courses twice per year, including one week in the October that we call A Sense of Place. During A Sense of Place, advisory groups work as teams to investigate one aspect of our place from an ecological and social perspective, then teach the rest of the school community about what they have learned. This allows each student an in-depth experience of and investment in one facet of our place as well as a view of the whole. Also, once every two months we modify the schedule to allow a block of time for service learning projects. Learning to become an environmental steward and community leader is the focus of our school program, and we have designed our schedule and our program to support our ability to achieve these outcomes.

About Ithaca

Ithaca, New York is a college town with an urban center of about 30,000 people, home to Cornell University and Ithaca College. Located in the Finger Lakes Region on the southern end of Cayuga Lake, education and technology are the major industries. The city is surrounded by hills, built on a former marshland in an area that was appropriated from Haudenosaunee people in the wake of the American Revolution just over 200 years ago. Our school attracts a diverse and eclectic group of young people from the wider Ithaca region who live within the boundaries of about 20 school districts, some traveling from up to an hour each way to attend our school. Last year two-thirds of the young people enrolled faced two or more life challenges that would put them at risk of academic failure, including poverty, learning disabilities, school issues, medical conditions, and family traumas. Historically about 40% of our students are from the Ithaca City School District. As a result, we have a unique kind of diversity in our school community, with urban and rural students forging close relationships over their four years together. We also serve students of color and biracial students who live in rural communities surrounding Ithaca who experience social and cultural isolation in those areas, as well as students who have recently moved to Ithaca.

Blog Posts

Teaching Our Cities & Schoolyards: Project-Based Learning In Action

  Robyn Stewart           May 30, 2022

What if urban public schools could mobilize their cities and schoolyards as classrooms – helping city students connect to their urban environments, master high academic standards, and grow into environmental stewards? Teaching our Cities and Schoolyards was a two-year project that aimed to do just that, with support from the EPA’s Environmental...

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The Cayuga Wetlands Restoration Project

  Jhakeem Haltom           September 18, 2017

In the Summer of 2015 New Roots' founder and Principal, Tina Nilsen-Hodges, sent our lead science instructor, David Streib, and myself as the Dean of Student Life to a science teachers’ conference hosted by the SUNY College of Envirionmental Science and Forestry and developed by the Haudenosaunee Environmental Task Force. The conference was...

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Students at the Center

  Joel Tolman           February 9, 2017

What happens when students sit at the center of conversations about improving their schools? Last Friday at Connecticut River Academy in Hartford, we found out. Twenty students from five urban public high schools sat down for a conversation about their schools. Two dozen teachers and school leaders perched and stood around the circle, leaning in...

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In this year-long freshman learning expedition, students learn about how the interaction of human and natural systems in our region have shaped Ithaca, understand the impacts of global climate change and fossil fuel depletion, and envision a green “... read more
Upper school students at New Roots explore water quality issues in their region -- sharing what they learn at a symposium open to the public.
This plan for a week-long intensive course is part of an ongoing effort by New Roots students and staff to restore the Cayuga Wetland, working in partnership with native peoples, environmental activists, and others.
In Spring 2017, New Roots students joined in a week-long intensive course focused on deepening New Roots' work to use their city as a learning laboratory. Three groups tackled different projects: using video and photography to document other... read more
New Roots' four-year curriculum scope and sequence is designed to integrate Education for a Sustainable Future (EfS) standards in every course, with place-based sustainability themes at each grade level.
This curriculum framework identifies key curricular themes in New Roots' lower school (grades 9 and 10) and upper school (grades 11 and 12), and make connections to Education for Sustainability standards. 
This google slides presentation shares images of student-created work, reinvisioning Ithaca using Solarpunk design. 
To make their exploration of Solarpunk and bee colony collapse tangible, they contribute to a pollinator garden outside New Roots' front door.
Students are challenged to create a work of art where they re-invent a part of their home city, using Solarpunk design.  
In this culminating task, students create an Solarpunk artifact -- a piece of writing or artistic work -- to add to an ongoing anthology and share at a final showcase.
This place-based scavenger hunt builds the background knowledge students need to create a picture book or other visual presentation on geologic forces shaping the landscape in Ithaca.
This scavenger hunt -- focused on habitats, community ecology, and related content -- was developed by students as part of a week-long intensives course, and used as part of the Sense of Place Orientation at the start of the school year.
This scavenger hunt -- developed by students as part of a week-long intensive course, and implemented as part of New Roots' Sense of Place Orientation -- explores Ithaca's long-standing African American community and history of racial justice work.
This piece of student writing was shared at the culminating Solarpunk showcase and became part of the ongoing Solarpunk Anthology.
This student writing was created as part of the New Roots' Solarpunk unit. 
This presentation was created by a New Roots 10th grader for the Solarpunk Showcase and Anthology.
Hear voices from students, sharing how their schools live up to their environmental and social justice missions, and where they come up short.