In the 2017-18 school year, New Roots launched an innovative new high school preparatory program that demonstrated just how powerful our vision of deeply engaged, community-based education that fuels passion for learning and academic achievement can be.

Our inaugural group of LEAP learners were a vibrant group of 20 young pioneering students and their teachers, Danielle Angie and Lee Kaltman. Now juniors, our LEAP learners are our school leaders, taking on leadership roles in our Student Council and Green Team as well as in local community service organizations. They have earned nearly 20% more credits and have a 20% higher grade point average compared to their peers. WOW! We are so excited to see how these early seeds of academic and personal development are coming to fruition in the lives of our students, positioning them for a successful future.

We are even more excited to bring these benefits and more to our lower school (grade 9 and 10) students in the 2021-22 school year by fully integrating the lessons we learned through LEAP, redesigning our high school program in a way that reignites passion and purpose in learning after the tremendous challenges young people have faced due to COVID. To maximize the benefits of this program, we will offer a fully in-person experience, as well as a separate remote option that emphasizes active learning rather than screen time.

Designed as a program to optimize preparation for high school, LEAP offered weekly opportunities for community engagement and real-world, interdisciplinary applications of academic skills and knowledge in a high-powered learning environment.

This foundational high school curriculum was 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 such 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, and how our social systems are embedded in, not separate from, our local 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 disabled as a result of an injury during his teenage years. In the third quarter, LEAP learners explored the theme of healthy living and healthy relationships, making the connection between healthy body, mind and spirit. This included an inquiry about how to have a healthy relationship with digital technology through research, lively discussion, and reflection on personal practice. The year culminated in the fourth quarter with the theme of relationship to the natural world.

Use of academic skills and practices necessary for high school success were 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, and something that our young people need now more than ever. Our students develop a real-world vision of themselves as active, engaged community members with passion and purpose. We see these seeds coming to fruition, even during the high school years.

We are now enrolling our next generation of learners ready to discover their passion and their purpose. Please help us to spread the good word!

With gratitude,


Tina Nilsen-Hodges

Founder, Principal and Superintendent