New charter school in Charleston County wants kids to go outside classrooms to learn
MCCLELLANVILLE — Fifth-grader Cherish Conyers can describe in percentages the type of material found in a landfill.
She learned that information last week when she saw the landfill in West Ashley, and she won’t soon forget the mound of trash or the “stinking” smell.
Conyers attends Cape Romain Environmental Education Charter School, the Lowcountry’s newest charter school. Part of its mission is to develop students who have an intimate knowledge of the community surrounding them, and that’s why they say it’s critical to take students outside of their classrooms.
“It’s not about being in a desk,” said Sally I’Anson, the school’s principal. “It’s about learning and getting outside.”
The school opened in August, and students already have taken dozens of field excursions, as they’re called. Educators see it as a way to engage students and make lessons more relevant. Students are expected to be in science labs or on field excursions at least three hours a week.
“We’re not giving them worksheets to memorize,” said fourth-grade teacher Hayley Leland. “We’re getting them to think.”
The rural K-5 school enrolls 59 students, although it could’ve accepted as many as 118. It plans to grow by one grade each year until it has an eighth grade.
Alicia Leland, who chairs the school’s board, said she’s not concerned about the empty seats this year. The school’s budget should cover its expenses, and she expects more students to enroll in the future.
“A lot of parents wanted to see that we’re up and running,” she said. “The longer we’re here, the more students we’re going to get.”
Leland grew up in the community and wants to stay here, but she said she’s seen many families with young children leave. The charter school gives parents another option, and it’s a way to bring them back to the area, she said.
The school has its charter through the state Public Charter School District, which means it doesn’t receive any local funding and it can accept students who live outside of Charleston County’s boundaries.
Charter schools are public schools. They are accountable to the same state and federal laws as traditional public schools, but they’re run by small boards of parents, educators and community leaders, rather than a county school board.
I’Anson helped create the school’s curriculum, and it’s built around environmental standards. The goal is to weave core subjects such as English and math into environmental learning.
The school has a full-time staff member devoted to environmental education, Pam Morrison. She works with teachers on environmental education lessons. Last Wednesday, that meant some students spent time outside planting cabbage collards and digging a pond to create a habitat for wildlife.
Other classes were inside, such as the fourth-graders learning about presidential and congressional elections. Although the lecture was typical of a traditional class, the room was filled with reminders of the school’s environmental emphasis.
A door leading outside was propped open and a poem students wrote for Wednesday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony was tacked to the wall.
Part of it reads: “CREECS (Cape Romain Environmental Education Charter School) is never boring/We are never snoring./With nature as our guide/We are never stuck inside.”
Reach Diette Courrégé Casey at @Diette on Twitter or 937-5546.