Grace Beahm/Post and Courier
Rigel Jessen, left, and Cherish Conyers plant cabbage collards in the school garden at Cape Romain Environmental Educational Charter School in McClellanville.
For students at the new Cape Romain Environmental Education Charter School, the Lowcountry’s newest charter school, the earth is the biggest classroom.
The school, which opened in August with 58 students, now serves kindergarten through fifth grade. It hopes to add middle school in upcoming years, said Sally I’Anson, the school’s principal. It plans to grow by one grade each year until it has an eighth grade.
The school is part of the North American Association for Environmental Education, I’Anson said.
“We use their standards to drive our curriculum,” I’Anson said, adding the goal of the school is to help students “develop a love of place.”
The school has its charter through the state Public Charter School District, which means it doesn’t receive any local funding and it can accept students who live outside of Charleston County’s boundaries.
Charter schools are public schools. They are accountable to the same state and federal laws as traditional public schools, but they’re run by small boards of parents, educators and community leaders, rather than a county school board.
Part of the school’s mission is to develop students who have an intimate knowledge of the community surrounding them, and that’s why they say it’s critical to take students outside of their classrooms.
“It’s not about being in a desk,” I’Anson said. “It’s about learning and getting outside.”
Students already have taken dozens of field excursions, as they’re called. Educators see it as a way to engage students and make lessons more relevant. Students are expected to be in science labs or on field excursions at least three hours a week.
“We’re not giving them worksheets to memorize,” said fourth-grade teacher Hayley Leland. “We’re getting them to think.”
I’Anson helped create the school’s curriculum, and it’s built around environmental standards. The goal is to weave core subjects such as English and math into environmental learning.
The school has a full-time staff member devoted to environmental education, Pam Morrison. She works with teachers on environmental education lessons. That meant some students recently spent time outside planting cabbage collards and digging a pond to create a habitat for wildlife
A poem students wrote for the recent ribbon-cutting ceremony is on a wall of the school.
Part of it reads: “CREECS (Cape Romain Environmental Education Charter School) is never boring/We are never snoring./With nature as our guide/We are never stuck inside.”
I’Anson said the McClellanville area is a perfect place for such a school because of its unique ecosystems.
“It’s critical they get a deep understanding of where they live. To use the environment in a responsible way,” I’Anson said.
She said the area is “steeped in history and tradition and we do not want that to be lost.”
Keeping students engaged in learning is critical because, I’Anson said, students who are not engaged drop out.
To find out more about the school, call (843) 887-3323 or email Info@CapeRomainSchool.com.
By Scott Harper
The Post and Courier contributed to this report.
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