"Did you guys do something with the front of the school?"
It's a question the students and faculty at Explorations Charter School, a public charter high school located in northwestern Connecticut, found themselves answering more than once as fall classes started earlier this month. As part of a brand-new summer initiative, a small group of students braved some of the hottest temperatures Connecticut saw this summer in order to beautify the Winsted campus’ grounds.
Mike Sanzaro, a counselor at Explorations and co-chair of the beautification project, said the goal of the project was never to get a bunch of kids to simply "pull up a bunch of weeds" over the summer. Rather, he says the goal was to equip the students with a business plan and give them some level of ownership over the project.
Sanzaro initially worried about low turnout, but instead got an abundance of students eager to dive in and help out. Students were split into five groups, and each was given a budget of $500 for their section of the project. At the onset of the weeklong initiative, students planned out the grounds before heading to the nursery to pick out plants, trees and other items necessary to get the job done.
Despite the scorching July temperatures, Sanzaro says the students maintained positive attitudes and worked flawlessly as a team. "All the right seeds - no pun intended - landed," Sanzaro said.
Jill Johnson, Executive Director of Explorations Charter School, described how the project brought together both students and parents, even garnering interest from students who had not yet begun their studies at the school. She said three students who had only just been accepted in the spring joined in, even bringing their parents along to help out.
"They really took pride in the work they were doing," she said.
In order to graduate from Explorations, students must complete a minimum of 20 hours of community service, which the beautification project counted toward. It’s this type of enrichment that sets Explorations and other public charter schools apart. By offering something not typically found in district schools, Connecticut’s public charter school graduates finish as well-rounded individuals with a host of experiences that benefit not only them, but the communities around them.
Explorations students Molly Gallagher and Melissa Zucca, who just began their junior and sophomore years, respectively, said taking part in the project not only helped fulfil their community service requirement, it helped them to grow as individuals too.
Zucca recalled the fun the group had taking a trip to the nursery and planning out the landscaping project. She said, "It was nice to be able to do that and to have fun, but also develop that work ethic."
Gallagher, whose father is in the landscaping business, was so excited about the project that she ended up buying nine plants! But her enthusiasm for the project could only be matched by her excitement over the opportunity to attend a school like Explorations.
"This school gave us a chance to blossom," Gallagher said, adding, "I learned more in one year here than my other school ever taught me."
Read more about this project in The Register Citizen!