High School Visit: Urban Assembly School for Green Careers





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Published on Feb 23, 2011


The Urban Assembly School for Green Careers aims to prepare students for environmental work either in "green buildings" (such as architecture, engineering or solar panel installation) or "green spaces" (such as gardening or forestry). Students at this Career and Technical Education (CTE) school may plant vegetables in an outdoor garden, cook in a kitchen, or work with an electrician making circuits on wooden boards.

Housed in the Brandeis educational complex, Green Careers, opened in 2008, shares a well-kept building with the Global Learning Collaborative, Innovation Diploma Plus and Frank McCourt High School.

We're "not at all structured like a traditional school," says principal A.J. Rathmann-Noonan, a former science teacher at the Urban Assembly School for Law and Justice in Brooklyn. Starting in 10th grade, students concentrate on one topic all day for a month. Some students say this feels long. Also long is the morning of instruction since lunch is at 1 p.m. Some kids said they were hungry long before lunch, and some had their heads on desks around noon. Rathmann-Noonan says breakfast will soon be delivered to the classrooms from the cafeteria. Ninth graders have 90-minute long classes. Gardening, ceramics, cooking and other electives take place in the afternoon.

A Fairness Committee helps teens work out problems. Two girls say this has made them feel heard at this school. Almost every class has two teachers. Class changes are slow: stragglers come late to class and a few are chased out of stairwells, in spite of locked classroom doors and a hallway monitor.

Instruction in classes is varied. Students see modern films and read graphic novels of Shakespeare's plays to compare classic and modern-day tragic heroes. In one class, students express frustration by a technology glitch and too much stopping to teach during a film.

The state is still drawing up the requirements for a new CTE certificate in Green Careers, which will include elements of agriculture and construction trades.

Special education: A special education teacher is flexible and willing to give students whatever extra help they need without requiring the paperwork which is usually necessary to get special services. One-quarter of the students have special needs and one-quarter are English Language Learners. "The school was designed to accept a lot of Special Ed and ELL," says Rathmann-Noonan. The school also has a sizeable number of students who have fallen behind over the years in basic academics. "Part of our job is to get them up to speed," Rathman-Noonan says. The school offers SETSS and Integrated Co-Teaching ("ICT", formerly "CTT").

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