School may be out, but the work continues for many charter schools throughout New York and Connecticut! These schools are putting in overtime to beat the summer slide, offering extended school years and programs aimed at keeping students engaged as the temperatures rise. Here’s how campers in New Haven are enjoying an urban oasis on the campus of Common Ground High School this summer!
Long before legislation was put into place in Connecticut allowing for public charter schools, the founders of Common Ground High School had been running a host of incredible programs in the greater New Haven area aimed at connecting young people to the resources within their own communities. One of those early programs, an ecology summer camp at the West Rock Nature Center, continues to this day on the 20-acre urban farm that is now the charter school’s high school campus.
Joel Tolman, Director of Community Engagement at Common Ground High School, took us on a tour recently of the camp grounds where we encountered lively campers, fun and games, as well as Common Ground students and alumni in a variety of roles associated with the camp and the grounds of the school.
Of the approximate 195 students who attend Common Ground, roughly 60-80 of them take on a variety of summer jobs, Tolman says. Some work with farm crews, some with habitat restoration, while others have jobs at the camp itself as counselors. The 300+ campers, Tolman says, start as early as age four and by age 12, can become junior counselors and eventually counselors once they reach high school age.
Unsurprisingly, Tolman says that many Common Ground campers, students and alumni find ways to come back year after year. Two such individuals we met during our tour were Common Ground students Miranda Holland and Aziz Muhammad who are going into their senior and junior years, respectively.
Holland (l) and Muhammad (r) take a quick photo break!
Both Holland and Muhammad have big plans once they leave Common Ground. Holland hopes to work in environmental policy or agriculture, while Muhammad hopes to one day work with children, specifically in pediatrics. They say their experience attending Common Ground, both during the school year with its focus on environmental justice and as summer camp counselors, has helped them in their pursuit of those goals.
"It’s really nice to see the school in a different way," Holland says of the transformation the camp makes over the summer. Muhammad added that working with the young campers is a great way to spend the summer, saying otherwise he may be forced to "be at my house playing video games, not doing anything productive."
For those of us who aren’t so lucky to spend our summer at Common Ground, their team runs an incredible Instagram account. There, you can live vicariously as you scroll through photo after photo of smiling faces, farm animals and ecological adventures
Here’s hoping Common Ground seriously considers creating a summer camp for grownups one day!
To get more of our Overtime series, be sure to check us out on Instagram at @necharters!