Reflections by Tina Nilsen-Hodges
Founder, Principal, & Superintendent

In this inaugural year of LEAP, our innovative new high school preparatory program, our vision of deeply engaged, community-based education that fuels passion for learning and academic achievement is being realized.

Our New Roots LEAP learners are a vibrant group of 20 young pioneering students and their teachers, Danielle Angie and Lee Kaltman. Designed as a program for students ages 12-15 who want to optimize their preparation for high school, LEAP provides weekly opportunities for community engagement and real-world, interdisciplinary applications of academic skills and knowledge in a powerful learning environment.

The LEAP curriculum is designed to deeply engage students with their community in ways that make sustainability a powerful and relevant real-world concept. Understanding social justice, a healthy economy, and a thriving natural world as essential ingredients for community wellbeing, students develop a natural motivation for learning and a vision for adult lives of a passionate livelihood and civic engagement. This in turn fuels success in high school and beyond.

Diving into their interdisciplinary, place-based curriculum, our LEAP learners started the year by exploring the questions, “What does it mean to be part of a community? What does it mean to be part of an ecosystem?” Many crisp fall mornings were spent exploring our urban center, visiting local institutions such as the public library, Loaves and Fishes, Cornell University, and Southside Community Center to learn about the system of institutions and people that make our “community” a vibrant place. They visited the permaculture park and other local sites multiple times as part of their science investigations to better understand essential components of a healthy ecosystem. In the second quarter, they explored social justice themes, exploring how the struggle for equality has expressed itself locally, nationally, and internationally both currently and historically. This theme featured local speakers such as Mayor Svante Myrick, who spoke about his experiences with racial issues, and a disability rights activist who became paraplegic as a result of an injury during his teenage years. In the third quarter, LEAP learners are exploring the theme of healthy living and healthy relationships, making the connection between healthy body, mind and spirit. This has included an inquiry about how to have a healthy relationship with digital technology through research, lively discussion, and reflection on personal practice. The year will culminate in the fourth quarter with the theme of relationship to the natural world.

Use of academic skills and practices necessary for high school success are woven into every project and theme. Students put their math and literacy skills to use in producing research papers, literary analyses, and real-world applications of mathematics related to their themes. Students also enjoy a highly personalized mathematics curriculum, with instruction targeted to their specific learning needs.

I commend the State University of New York for authorizing this bold and innovative program that meets students’ developmental needs as learners while cultivating the habits of mind and practice that they will need to succeed in high school. I also value the fact that in a world that is increasingly global and digital, this is education that is local and personal, face-to-face. Our LEAP students are developing a real-world vision of themselves as active, engaged community members with passion and purpose.

We are now enrolling our next generation of LEAP learners. Please help us to spread the good word. Spaces are limited, and the success of this program suggests we’re likely to have a LEAP lottery on May 1st. Enroll today!

Online Enrollment: APPLY HERE

April 22nd Open House: RSVP HERE

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