Students at Common Ground High School in New Haven are doing more than just learning about wetlands – they’re getting the chance to build one and create a new home for frogs and salamanders.
For freshman Ibes Nieto, digging was not part of the classwork at his former school. He is one of the 180 students getting a unique education in nature’s classroom.
“It’s more hands on, I guess, because in other schools, they would just teach you the lesson and give you a piece of paper and make you do the work. But here, they would have you ask more questions so you would get the idea faster and better,” said Nieto.
This hands-on learning charter school must maintain the same federal and state requirements as any other public school. According to the school’s director, Common Ground does that by pinpointing skills necessary for success and then weaving those skills into environmentally themed courses.
“We believe in doing real work for real audiences and we embed those projects into those classes as well,” said school director Liz Cox. “So students are working toward the end, some goal, a project goal, in an environmental context, but doing really heavy reading, writing and problem solving.”
This one-of-a-kind school brings in eager-to-learn students, not just from New Haven, but from 16 surrounding towns. About 95 percent of graduates are accepted into college.
“The goal for the students who come to this school is for them to become the next generation of environmental leaders and to be prepared to take what they learn here into the future,” explained Cox.
Miranda Bailey-Russomano is a teaching assistant for the drama program which, not surprisingly, practices outside in nature.
“The Shakespeare program is really unique because they want to provide that education of Shakespeare to students in high schools,” said Bailey-Russomano. “It’s such a big part of the school community.”
Students can’t stress enough how important community is at Common Ground.
“The school I come from in Naugatuck is, it’s too large for me to actually know people,” said Nieto. “When I got here, I was like, ‘wow this is like home, it feels like a community,’” Bailey-Russomano recalled.