Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Green charter school being explored in Emmaus

The idea came to Pana Columbus one day while envisioning the world her 9-month-old daughter will grow up in.

What's the best thing we as parents can do for our children? asked the Allentown native, who moved to Emmaus with her husband, Scott, a year ago and opened a local theater company.

The answer was all around her.

''The environment kept coming up,'' Columbus said.

It led the couple, along with Rob Aptaker, to form an exploratory committee that will hold a meeting at 7 tonight in hopes of founding the Lehigh Valley's first green charter school in the East Penn School District.

''We just want it open in time for our daughter when she goes to school,'' Scott Columbus said jokingly, though months of work lie ahead before an application would reach the East Penn School Board, which would have to approve the plan.

A green charter school has an environmental focus with a curriculum, faculty and learning atmosphere that reflects understanding and respect for the health of the planet and all living things.

The couple's Circle of Stones Ritual Theater Ensemble of Emmaus has produced plays with environmental and sustainability themes. They have long seen the value of teaching children Earth-friendly lessons that can be carried into adulthood, they said.

With scientists acknowledging the effects of global warming and more attention on solar energy and alternative fuels, the group is sensing a green school would have broad appeal to young families living in and moving to Emmaus.

After tonight's initial meeting, the group plans to visit other green schools such as the Wissahickon Charter School, which opened in 2002 in Philadelphia. The school focuses on active and service learning centered on academic activities.

So far, the vision for the Emmaus school is to have a curriculum that would allow students to learn and practice natural resource management, Earth stewardship, organic gardening, Earth-friendly consumer skills and ways to reduce environmental degradation and global warming.

''They will have an understanding of how nature works and their relationship to it,'' Pana said. There will be an awareness of the principal challenges of the future,'' she said.

Aptaker, an Allentown resident who contracts with the Philadelphia School District to bring American Indian history into classrooms, said he's just beginning the daunting, slow process for starting the charter. He's hoping people will join the committee so he will have the necessary applications and documents filed by the end of the year.

''We want to start following a model of thinking globally and acting locally,'' he said. ''Not by just talking about it, but doing it.''

Charter school applications must be submitted to the district in which the school would be located by Nov. 15. The school district must review the application, hold public hearings within 45 days, and make a decision within 77 days of the hearings. If a charter application is not approved, the applicant may appeal to the state Charter Appeals Board.

No comments: