Accountability And Flexibility Credited for ‘Mission-Driven’ Schools’ Better Performance
July 27, 2011|By KATHLEEN MEGAN, email@example.com, The Hartford Courant
Students at charter schools are making significant strides narrowing academic achievement gaps — between poor and affluent students, between urban and suburban schools and between minority and white students — according to a new analysis of the 2011 Connecticut Mastery Test released Wednesday. (read more)
The next time students want to buy a bike for a pedal-powered smoothie machine, they won’t have to take out a loan.
That was one takeaway Monday at the city’s environmental-themed charter high school, as a teacher snagged a $27,000 prize in a national competition.
Jeremy Stone, a third-year teacher at Common Ground High School in West Rock, scored first place in the national Unsung Heroes Awards Program run by ING Financial Services.
ING, which sells financial products that help teachers save for retirement, has run the Unsung Heroes program for the past 14 years. The program gives out grants to teachers to support classroom projects. This year, 1,600 teachers were nominated nationwide, and 100 won $2,000 grants. Stone scored first place among those winners, landing him a total of $27,000 in prize money that will go straight to the school.
The company handed him a $27,000 check at a surprise announcement in the high school cafeteria Monday afternoon. The event was kept hush-hush that not even the teachers knew what was going to take place. Rumors buzzed around the hallways: Is Justin Beiber coming?
Around 12:15 p.m., business-suited visitors revealed two signs at the front of the room: “Unsung Heroes.”
Shortly after, Stone was called out of the audience to collect his prize.
Stone (pictured), who’s 31, walked to the front of the room wearing Carhartts and a carabiner clipped to his belt loop. He’s starting his eighth year of teaching. When he’s not in the classroom or on the farm at Common Ground, he and his wife run an organic farm in Portland, Conn. He was praised for his passion for teaching, for being a “thinker” and an “executor” for new ideas in the classroom.
The money will support a class he started when he joined Common Ground three years ago. It’s called “Environmental Ventures.” In the class, students work with products from the school’s urban farm—chickens, kale, syrup—and make their own businesses.
Last year, then-sophomore Joshua Cintron worked on a project in Stone’s class called Smoothies. His group of four students put together a business based on a bicycle and a blender. The back wheel of the bike rubs against a metal cylinder, which spins the blade of the blender. Fellow junior Nelson Ruiz hopped on the bike to demonstrate, as Cintron held down the lid of the blender. (Click on the play arrow at the top of the story to watch.)
Inside, organic mangoes mixed with honey, kale and ice to form a smoothie. They poured them into paper cups for the visitors.
Cintron said the group built the bike, then peddled smoothies to parents and other visitors during an open house weekend at the school. They sold smoothies at $3 a pop. They pioneered new flavors—mango/kale, strawberry/spinach. All the ingredients were organic. Some—the green ones—came straight from the school’s farm.
The group put together a business plan for the company, named Smoothies. They took out a $1,000 loan from the school to pay for the bike, then paid back half of it based on profits from the smoothie sales (mango/kale was the most popular).
Cintron (at right in photo, with Nelson Ruiz) said he learned about teamwork: The hardest part was “being on the same page.” And he learned about city laws: without a city vending permit, the group was limited to selling on-campus.
He said Stone came to the rescue twice when the blender stopped working on the job—and, more important, proved to be a great motivator.
“He trusted in us a lot,” Cintron said. “He kept having faith in us.”
Stone said the class is typically offered twice a year. The class, which meets five days a week, serves 20-25 students in grades 9 to 12. He said he thought it up as a way to combine hands-on experience on the farm with business skills. Students work in groups to come up with “green” business plans. As a rule, the products the kids come up with have to be “more environmentally friendly than the average product of that type.”
Over the last two years, students have canned salsa, baked pies, and produced wool and maple syrup from the farm. Students not only run the businesses; they learn how to present their plans in public.
The grant will provide capital for future business plans, Stone said, so that Common Ground will no longer be underwriting the ventures.
The student businesses will pay for their own equipment, and even pay the school rent money for office space and utilities.
That means the program can “take a loss on riskier ventures,” Stone said.
The program will get new computers and a new dedicated office space, which will be added into a $1.5 million school expansion paid for by the state.
And kids like Cintron can get paid an hourly wage for cranking out smoothies on the bicycle. Before, kids were paid, but based on the profits of the class as a whole, not hourly. Students will be in charge of their own budgets.
That means the next group of smoothie-peddlers will likely be able to afford a second bike—and maybe even a city permit to take their business on the road.
Hartford Conn, (AP) – The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is helping traditional school districts in nine cities including Hartford, form partnerships with charter school organizations.
These collaborations are supposed to help both kinds of schools learn from each other improve student learning.
The collaboration agreements announced Tuesday will help schools in Baltimore, Denver, Hartford, Conn., Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Nashville, Tenn., New Orleans, New York City and Rochester, N.Y.
A different partnership agreement has been signed in each city, but most will focus on things like access to buildings, opening charter schools to students with special needs or those who are still learning English, and aligning school curriculum to the new national academic standards.