Traverse City Record-Eagle

December 31, 2012

Thinking green

Charter school focuses its curriculum on environment


TRAVERSE CITY — The Greenspire School is finding a groove in its second academic year.

The public, tuition-free charter school features a project-based, environmentally focused curriculum for grades 6-8. Situated amid the 500-acre Grand Traverse Commons, the school's seven teachers guide 60 students to combine academic rigor with ecological relevance.

Greenspire School is a public charter partnership with the Traverse City Area Public School district. Students are drawn from around the region and represent 16 different school districts or high schools.

The vision at Greenspire School — from its inception to daily studies — is to provide an education model for all students. Greenspire is free and open to the public with multi-age classrooms.

"We don't want to be an alternative school, we want to be a model for the future," said Kurt Sanford, board president. "From the inside and from the outside, we don't look like a traditional school."

Community partnerships are a foundation at Greenspire, which includes students sharing talents, energy and interests with the community. The school's service-based component is a key, and rounds out the blend of academic and environmental focus.

"There's a social-emotional education; (students') development is really a strategic part," said Johnson.

A $10,000 grant this fall from the United States Forest Service's Huron-Manistee National Forests showcases such connections.

The money helps extend the school's environmental reach both inside the classroom and outside the walls. Students can investigate sustainable energy and green building practices, explore tree species in the Commons, plant and care for fruit trees, examine the biology of Kid's Creek and improve the school's recycling and reuse program.

"Our unique curriculum relies on the expertise of many diverse people and organizations, businesses and government to offer a broad approach to environmental and science education," said Sarah Johnson, Greenspire administrator.

The school is awaiting approval for a significant expansion, including a 5,400-square-foot new building. The facility would feature four classrooms, one of which will be a state-of-the-art science lab and classroom.

Funding in part is drawn from a four-year, $125,000 grant from the Aline Underhill Orten Foundation. The bulk — $80,000 — is earmarked for construction of the science room.

Optimism runs high for a mid-January ground-breaking on the new classrooms.

Greenspire's expansion hopes include plans to educate 150 to 200 students.

For more information on the Greenspire School, call 946-4400 or visit