Charter school infatuation

Since I am passionate about education, it is important that, as my son grows up, he has a thoughtful, experiential, differentiated education — one that is meaningful to him and our family and one that addresses the different ways of learning and different needs of each child. To me, it is the ultimate way to educate for our future. It is also a huge task.

In February, the Staten Island Green Charter School for Environment Discovery, a college preparatory school, applied for a kindergarten through fifth grade charter from the SUNY Charter Schools Institute. It hopes to open its doors in September 2012, and will begin with kindergarten and first grade programs that aim to uncover each child’s distinct learning styles, while teaching the kids how to produce energy-efficient environments through the use of technology and experiential learning. Each child will be individually taught using high-quality, hands-on, technology-rich, and environmentally-based practices.

When I first went to a meeting about the school, and met the founder, Dr. Carole Reiss, I grew weak in the knees. As an educator, I totally understand the need for something like this on Staten Island. (It was not so long ago that Staten Island was synonymous with The Dump — something I am so grateful that my son will never smell.) It makes sense to have a school like this, and I have long been a proponent of differentiated, experiential learning. One of the most important mantras of education is: “learning needs to be meaningful.” If kids are learning about the environment, it is good practice that they plant a few flowers and understand it from the grass up.

As a parent, I am hopeful that Reiss, who is employed by the Department of Education and works as coordinator for Health and Wellness Sciences at Mahalia Jackson College Preparatory Academy in Harlem, will be able to offer even 65 percent of the amazing educational programs that she has proposed. I have been to about four meetings so far — I’m a bit of a groupie — and, as I understand, the curriculum is broken down into three major components: environmentalism, personal health, and wellbeing; technology; and differentiated learning.

Some of the proposed programs I have heard mentioned are: acquisition of Spanish and Mandarin languages: e-classes to keep parents up to date; healthy lunches — which will eventually be created by students, using food grown in the school’s greenhouse; yoga and Tai Chi, as well as other sports; dramatic arts; science-themed field trips; smaller class sizes, and much more.

Oh, and it’s free, as it’s a public school.

As I said, I am passionate about education — especially the education of my child. I feel that this model will serve as a great beginning in his educational career. With that said, I need to be a little more critical and try to look at all sides of this concept. Right now, until the charter goes through, I have made it a mission to not only find out more about this school, and this model of education, but about all of the schools offering more than just the typical education on Staten Island provided by the Department of Education.

Charter schools are not popular in many circles, and I am just learning about them, so the jury may still be out. I feel strongly that I want the best for my child, as all parents do, and I want to share my knowledge with you. One of the things we need to do is research our options and understand what it is that is being offered.

For more information about the Staten Island Green Charter School for Environmental Discovery, visit www.sigcs.com; nyccharterschools.org; and schools.nyc.gov/community/planning/charters.

Nanine Iengo Blomstrom is an early childhood educator and administrator for the Children’s Aid Society. She is also the publisher of “Staten Island North Macaroni Kid,” a weekly e-newsletter, as well as mom to her 3-year-old son, Teddy. While not running around trying (and failing) to be a domestic goddess, Nanine writes about a number of subjects such as education, parenting, media, and nutrition, all of which can usually be found at www.statenislandnorth.macaronikid.com.