Unity Charter School: A Teacher’s Perspective

May 9, 2011

Happy Monday! We welcome back our friends from Unity Charter School, a tuition-free, public K – 8 charter school in Morris Township. In case you missed last week’s post, Unity is unique because it combines New Jersey core curriculum requirements with a focus on teaching students the principles of sustainability, ecology and diversity to celebrate and protect the planet and all its inhabitants.

What’s it like to be a teacher at this remarkable little school? Julia Kelly weighs in with her perpective today:

First harvest of carrots from Unity Charter School garden

By Julia Kelly

I have been teaching the multi-age third and fourth grade learning group at Unity Charter school since 2002. While the previous building on Speedwell Avenue was quaint and homey, as we grew larger it became a cramped and challenging environment in which to teach and learn. It was particularly challenging to teach in a room with only a sky light and no windows. Now that we have moved to the new location, my classroom has six wonderful windows! Not only is the space much bigger, but it is wonderful and bright. The students are growing plants in every window. We have some great old hardwood and pine trees right outside, and we have hung many bird feeders. It was thrilling watching the birds all winter long.

One of the most important aspects of Unity is to teach the importance of protecting and improving the environment by educating our students on the principles of sustainability. There are many reasons why teaching at Unity has been such a wonderful experience for me these past nine years. Unity is a place that I have been able to share my passion for protecting the earth with young minds and this has impacted my life in many positive ways. I like the way we look at the whole child and are able to teach with a hands-on approach.

From a young age I have felt very connected to the earth. At the age of sixteen I designed my own herb garden in the back yard of our house in Califon, N.J. It was a successful first attempt at gardening. I have had a vegetable or flower garden just about every year since then. I love to share my passion for gardening with my students.

I have written many Education for Sustainability curriculum units with the help of the Cloud Institute for Sustainability Education. There are two units that I am particularly proud of having written. The first is an Efs unit on Endangered Species of New Jersey. With a combination of science, language arts, technology and art the students produce wonderful final projects around this subject area. They make their own book and sculptures of their chosen endangered species. We invite the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey come to our school to deepen the knowledge that students gain through their research of endangered species. The class then raises money for the foundation, and we adopt an endangered species with our donation.

Squash planted in the summer before Unity Charter School opened in its new space

Unity Charter School students working in the garden

Another curriculum unit that I am proud of is the Native and Invasive Plant Species of New Jersey. This unit is also multi-disciplinary; bringing together art, science, technology and language arts throughout the lesson plan. I also take the students on a field trip to the Tourne Park to see the native plant species garden. We finalize this unit with a power point presentation and class book that serves as a legacy project for future third and fourth grade classes.

Unity is an ideal place for me to share my love of the planet with young students. The mission is very close to my heart, and I think that makes it more genuine for the students as well. I feel extremely fortunate to be a part of this very special learning environment. •

This series continues next Monday

Images: Unity School students and their garden