Nature and Learning are One at Trinity Environmental Academy
Trinity Environmental Academy, a Sustainable Education Solutions school of science and engineering, is making significant changes in the Dallas academic landscape. Founder and Chief Academic Officer Jennifer Hoag always had a passion for hiking, camping and connecting with nature. As a science teacher in low-income communities of Southern Dallas for 14 years, she noticed that her students had few, if any, opportunities to engage with the natural world. When she and a group of fi ve other founders came together, they sought to create a charter school that encouraged being outside. “I knew getting kids outdoors to learn was so much more impactful than a video,” shares Hoag. “We wanted to start a school with that philosophy right near the Great Trinity Forest, the largest urban hardwood bottomland forest in the country.”
The typical day at Trinity Environmental Academy starts with a morning breakfast, followed by group circles where students have a chance to talk about their day and schedule. There is always the option for circles and lessons in the outdoor classroom spaces. The students cover all subjects that traditional schools do, such as English and math, but through the lens of the environment. Kids in kindergarten, for example, may go around the school grounds looking for objects that are smooth or of a particular color and texture. Older scholars are focused on the application of these environmental principles and have applied geometry to build the school’s raised garden beds and biology to create compost piles.
The school is located on the Paul Quinn College campus. “As far as we know, ours is the fi rst public school/ private college partnership in the state of Texas,” says Hoag. Students from the college’s education program have a chance to teach and tutor students at the school, creating a mutually beneficial exchange for academic and professional growth. The 150-acre campus is also abundant with trees, plants, animals and a creek, which provides the opportunity for group exploration, trash pick-ups and courtyard beautification projects.
Much of what attracted Hoag to the campus was their football field turned-farm. “We thought it would be a perfect urban farm to take students to and learn from,” says Hoag. The students frequent the farm and use it as a reference for thematic reading exercises and collaborative projects. Students and staff were involved in this year’s Earth Tank competition at Earth Day Texas. One project, driven by the Trinity Environmental Academy School Board, was a winner of the contest. The board members built a prototype for the school’s future primary learning center out of shipping containers. “When you drive down Highway 45, there are stacks of shipping containers everywhere,” Hoag states. “We would like to use these shipping containers in an environmentally responsible way.” The idea is to create an building with these recycled materials that has large sliding glass doors and immediate access to the outdoors, allowing for an indoor/outdoor classroom model.
Trinity Environmental Academy currently hosts Pre-K, kindergarten, fi rst, second, sixth and seventh grades. Ultimately, the school will continue through grade 12. There are no prerequisites to be admitted as long as students do not have a disciplinary record. As a public school, it is open to enrollment for all within the boundaries of Dallas, Lancaster and Desoto independent school districts. “The vision is for our graduates to be great critical thinkers, problem solvers and adept at working collaboratively,” shares Hoag. Michael Hooten, the school’s superintendent, puts great emphasis on college readiness. Priority is also placed on career readiness Nature and Learning are One at Trinity Environmental Academy by Gina Cronin natural awakenings August 2016 21 through career and technology education (CTE) courses offered to high school students. Pupils may choose from information technology, agriculture and biotech, with certification in their selected subject area upon graduation.
“We are always looking for partners who want to get involved and engaged,” says Hoag, “we truly want our school to be a community resource.” She encourages individuals and organizations passionate about children and the environment to reach out and help make a sustainable difference for the youth of Dallas.
For more information, call 972-920- 6558 or visit TRIEA.org.
Gina Cronin is a writer for Natural Awakenings magazine.