Towards the back of the school grounds, there was an outdoor amphitheater and pavilion that appeared to be used for lessons. The building itself was remarkable. It appeared as if there were windows everywhere. As I approached the building, a very friendly man who introduced himself to me as a member of the administrative team greeted me. I watched as he excused himself for a minute and opened the door of the approaching car and greeted the student and his family. I asked if this was a special day or if there was someone who was absent that he was filling in for at car duty. He laughed and informed me that this is “the way we do things around here”. He motioned up a ways and pointed out another administrative team member who was greeting a bus (which used clean burning liquid natural gas) full of students who had just arrived. As the students from the bus approached him enthusiastically to say, “good morning”, he pointed out Alex to me. Alex came over and introduced herself. She had a spark in her eye, an easy smile, and a maturity that humbled me. I laughed, and teased the administrator for setting me up with the best and brightest student in the fourth grade. I never realized until months later that Alex was a special education student as well as a student with a multitude of family problems that no 10-year should ever have to deal with.
I entered the building with Alex and went to the multipurpose room. On the wall of the room was a beautiful tile mosaic. The mosaic was a depiction of the city and its relationship to sustainable energy. The students re-imagined Philadelphia as a Green city. I thought to myself that it must have cost a fortune to have an artist come in and do that mosaic. Alex must have read my mind because she brought me up to the mosaic and proudly pointed out a message tile with her name on it. I looked more closely and there were a hundred message tiles embedded in the mosaic. There were also handmade ceramic figures embedded in there. Alex told me that this was a schoolwide project. The students created the mosaic themselves with the help of a Community Partner as part of a unit of study on sustainability. She pointed out numerous essential components of sustainability to me and I humbly digested this new knowledge. One of the administrators came in and began the day. Alex explained that this was “morning meeting” and it was how they always started the day. I was told by my young chaperone that they always began the day together as a school because it was important to understand that they are a community of learners and that they were all here to learn together. Every student in the school was equally important and an integral part of the community. That week, it was the first grade’s job to do morning announcements. They had come in early and researched the important news of the day and the weather forecast and were sharing what they learned with the school.
I followed Alex to her classroom. My first reaction when I walked into the room was how odd this looked for a classroom. It was nothing like what a classroom should look like (at least, my perception of what a classroom should be). This room was so odd. First of all, the room was very bright. It seemed like the room was positioned “just so”, so that the natural light from the Sun would stream in. There were little nooks built right into the room and the room was setup with tables as well as desks and areas that were “centers”. Student work was everywhere. Every piece of student work had some form of writing attached. There were computers, ipods, a television, a cd player with headphone and something that I found out was called a “smartboard”. I watched as each student went up and touched the smartboard when they came in. I asked Alex what they were doing and she explained that is how they sign-in in the morning. I saw a student watering the plants, I saw another feeding the fish, and I saw someone feeding Iggy, the class iguana. Alex told me to follow her and her partner, Rasheed. I followed them to a bank of instruments in the school foyer and watched as they collected data regarding how much energy the school was able to sell the the electric company. The school actually produced more energy that it used and the excess was put into the electricity grid. I observed impressively as they entered the data into the database that they had created themselves earlier in the year and graphed the data on the full size graph paper in the lobby. The data was now available for any class to see and use.
..to be continued