At a tiny charter school in Portage,Wis., students don’t just take a class in environmental studies. The subject is a defining feature of the school.
“Our curriculum is green,” said Victoria J. Rydberg, the founder and lead teacher at River Crossing Environmental Charter School. “Everything we do is tied somehow to environmental studies.”
A new organization launched last month, the Green Charter Schools Network, aims to help link up such environmentally focused schools and expand their numbers.
Senn R. Brown, the executive director of the network, based in Madison,Wis., said more and more “green” charters are emerging.
“We’re seeing these schools mainly being created by parents and by educators, environmentalists, and so forth,” said Mr. Brown, the former head of the Wisconsin Charter Schools Association. “This is the public in public education stepping forward.”
The flexibility charter schools generally enjoy is helpful to the approach.
“You have more freedom to create a school from scratch that is often freed from many of the state regulations,” Mr. Brown said.
At River Crossing Charter, a middle school, the 18 students regularly participate in “real-world restoration projects,” said Ms. Rydberg, who just penned a book, Hands On, Feet Wet: The Story of River Crossing Environmental Charter School.
She sees advantages to the school’s charter status.
“I have to make sure kids meet standards, pass the tests,” Ms. Rydberg said. “Other than that, I don’t have to go with the district curriculum. It allows me to be very innovative in what we’re learning.”
Oliver D. Barton, a member of the national network’s board and the director of Common Grounds High School in New Haven, Conn., said his school’s environmental emphasis is “very helpful in building students’ commitment to their own education.”
A 1,500-acre park nearby is a field laboratory for learning. The school also runs a small organic farm, growing food for the lunch program.
“You name it: potatoes, squash, beans, chard, lettuces, tomatoes, and eggplants,” Mr. Barton said, ticking off produce that reaches the lunchroom. “Pickles are popular.”
A version of this article appeared in the November 28, 2007 edition of Education Week