⋍Bright Futures Academy⋍
⋍Have you ever had the experience where something came together with such flow and ease that you asked yourself, "Why do I ever push/pull/force anything to happen? When the best things always seem to come together with ease?" My collaboration with Bright Futures Academy (BFA) is one of the favorite experiences of my life－ and it sort of, "just happened."
It all began at a dinner party in Miami. I happened to mention to one of the gal's there that I was working on a new project (be-7) and gave a synopsis of the site barely longer than the "elevator version". The next day, she sent me a text message. The message read, "I'm at a school you need to look into... they revolve the curriculum around an 'edugarden'... I'm blown away. Check out the website and if you see how this could help what you're doing, I can put you in front of their CEO." In less than fifteen minutes, I replied to the text to let her know, YES, I wanted an introduction. Within that fifteen-minute window, this is what I had found: Bright Futures Academy is a "free, grassroots, non-profit, philanthropic charter school that promotes internationalism, tolerance, independence and a love for learning in a warm, supportive climate." The school's motto is, "to inspire our youth to Stand Up For The Earth." I also saw an article about the connection between time spent in nature and brain health, and the subsequent correlation between happy people [equals]－happy planet linked to their website. I was intrigued, to say the least.
As promised, a prompt introduction was made between BFA's CEO Kendall Artusi and me. Our email exchanges centered around possible synergy between BFA and be-7, of which there seemed to be a lot. I was soon sitting in Kendall's office with her partner Henry DiGiacinto, eagerly awaiting my tour of the aforementioned EDU-Garden™. Did I mention the school was only a mere two miles from my home? Ease.
I was raised in a Montessori-school environment and had considered myself quite exposed to non-traditional and unique classroom settings. In spite of that, I must admit, just as my friend had been, my meeting with Kendall and Henry left me "blown away". Highlights of offerings for their five-hundred K-8th grade students include meditation exercises to start each day, teachings of self-actualization and awareness, as well as their mission to indoctrinate the Green Movement to their students. Their mission is somewhat urgent because of the transient nature of the demographic of their student population; the teachers do not know for how long they will have their students and want to make each lesson impactful. It may come as no surprise that I was most interested in their core motto and, as a long-time Neil Young fan, was elated to hear the inspiration came from his song lyrics:
Kendall's school model is unique and filled with passion; she is a true pioneer woman for education and our planet. She is bringing BFA's model to other schools around the country. The EDU-Garden™ is a perfect example of her level of innovation in education. The idea sprouted from her daughter's experience abroad and has become a multigenerational project for her family, as her mother Miss Pat is the leader of the EDU-Garden™. I can imagine, by now, you are beyond ready to learn what an EDU-Garden™ is? It is "a unique outdoor classroom, where students have the opportunity to participate in hands-on environmental science learning." The EDU-Garden™ has plots that represent different continents and the children learn the agricultural techniques of that continent. The students learn about the cycle of life in the EDU-Garden™. The students learn how to grow their own food and the EDU-Garden™ provides produce for students, their families, and BFA staff. It is not only plants that the students are caring for in their garden－they have chickens, therapy bunnies, and fish. In fact, each year, the students go fishing in nearby waterways for invasive species of fish, the fish are then kept in a tank that is part of a permaculture design that feeds their tomato plants! At the end of the year, the students and staff enjoy a fish fry. This is only one of many group meals prepared in the EDU-Garden™ each year.
After my first tour of the EDU-Garden™, we did a bit of brainstorming to decide how be-7 and BFA could collaborate. I wanted to learn from the BFA students who were, at the very core of their education, taught to "Stand Up For The Earth". I had to know, how does this type of education affect their insights and reflections? I knew there was wisdom from these students that was meant to be shared. The decision was made that I would prepare questions for the students to answer and we scheduled my next visit, for only one week later. I would be remiss if I did not mention that my visits fell right before the school's winter holiday break. Anyone who has been in school as a teacher or a student knows how hectic this time of year can be. Despite the hectic nature of the holidays and even though it created more work for their schedules on the week of the anticipated "Holiday Program", the BFA staff and teachers were (passionately) encouraging the project. Beyond being grateful for their push and execution of the be-7 project, I am validated in my belief that the individuals BFA hires are in alignment with their mission and work with enthusiasm and integrity... one more ✓⁺ to their school model.
The questions I asked the student were:
1. If the ocean could speak to us, what would it say?
2. When you visit the beach, how does the ocean make you feel?
3. Create a story about a species who has an ocean home.
4. What does "Stand Up For The Earth" mean to you?
Before you scroll down to enjoy their responses and shared wisdom (expressed through artwork, video, and essays), I would like to reflect on the day I met the students Bright Futures Academy is cultivating. I was quite pleased when my Q&A with the BFA students fell on a day when my mother would be visiting from out of state. My mother was a Montessori-school educator for over thirty years and currently is a teacher naturalist for a topiary garden. In other words, taking her to BFA was the equivalent of taking your niece, who will not take her cinderella costume off, to Disney World when she visits Florida.
Mom and I arrived at the EDU-Garden™ as students from the lower and middle schools congregated. We formed a circle where the students were given the opportunity to share. They were asked to reflect on their experiences with the project and eager to give their input on these topics. Even as I write this, months later, I am feeling as I felt that day: INSPIRED. I continue to be inspired by this group for a few reasons. First, their passion for the Earth and its oceans was on their faces, in their tone of voice, and in the words they chose during our group discussion. They shared from their hearts, and also from a place of great concern. Second, the students' knowledge of environmental topics far exceeded that of the average adults I speak to about the same topics. Boys and girls were rattling off sentences that reflected an understanding of diverse ecosystems and the impacts of pollution, litter, boat motors, oil spills, fossil fuels, overfishing, micro plastics, nurdles, and melting ice caps on oceans, animals, and air. Third, the students clearly expressed how being near or in the ocean made them feel at peace and as though they could "do anything"; the ocean made them feel like the best versions of themselves. They also articulated that the ocean could be a scary place. The students seemed infuriated by the ocean's current state, and this came through when they were asked to personify the ocean. The students, speaking as the ocean, warned society against pushing the ocean too far. There was empathy in their words－is how the ocean feels how they feel? There were moments of their sharing where there seemed to be no disconnect between the two. Fourth, there was hope. The students reminded us that, "If the ocean could speak, it would not be too late. For though it has begun, we can still change its fate!"
⇪3-Dimensional artwork by Bright Futures Academy students: "repurposed jelly" ＋ "garbage"⇪
"If the ocean could speak to us, what would it say? This letter is from the ocean: I'm flooding your land because you are polluting me. Please stop polluting me. I want to live. Your killing me slowly but surely. Soon I won't be able to control my rage. Soon enough my rage will control me and I won't hold back. Before you know it your cities and towns will be flooded with my rage. So stop now before I can no longer control my rage. You can stop this. Every wave you see is me slowly but surely coming towards your destruction. On my happy days I'm calm and relaxing. My tide calmly seeps in slowly, calming your nerves. My waves gracefully overtaking the sand. My majestic creatures roaming throughout me. The sun perfectly hitting me and reflecting its beauty. The calming palm trees, swaying in my diversity. The majestic sea creatures living among me. Wouldn't you love to keep them. To help them. Don'e salute to pollution, help the ocean!" - M.D. 8th grade
"If the ocean could speak to us, I'd think that'd it'd scream. It would scream in pain, it would cry out for us to stop, stop, stop hurting it. I think that it would beg us to please stop polluting it, throwing trash and oil, along with other things. I feel as if, along with being angry, it'd be hurt, it would be helpless, it would explain how natural disasters are just it's way to cry out for help. It would explain how it just wants to protect it's inhabitants. It would tell us how if we don't want to care for it, then care for the million of organisms that live in it. Maybe, it would even like to tell us that even though we treat it like trash (literally) it just wants to play, it loves when we enjoy it. Maybe, it used to feel beautiful but now it feels like it's not even worth looking at. If it could speak then I'd also like to think it could cry; because it feels that with the way we treat him, then it's useless. When really I'd wish it would know how much it really matters. How important it is, how it keeps us alive." -G.M.
"The ocean. The ocean. It speaks to me everyday I want it to be. The ocean needs our help, and we will offer it. By speaking out to say stop hurting it. Every time we pollute the ocean, we also pollute it's motion. The ocean is our marine animals home, and we are ruining it. If we stop now it will be better than[,] cleaning the ocean is our job, though we don't get paid with money, we get paid with the love from our hearts. Now you know it speaks to me and we can clean it to be better for you...and...me."
"The ocean makes me feel calm. I feel like I can do what ever I want. The ocean makes me have fun. I can play with my cousins. I feel likes it's speaking to me saying, go out and play it's your day to have fun. That's what I will do ocean. The ocean is rising me up and I feel likes it is helping me a lot. I feel happiness inside and I think my cousins and sisters feel the same way as me. We don't liter. I feel like we are a good family. I feel like we are making the ocean happy and the ocean is making us happy to. Ocean thank you for making everybody happy when they come." -D.S. 5th Grade
"When I visit the beach, The beach makes me feel happy. Because you get to play in the water and see your friends and family have fun. It's also a place where you can have peace ☮ and think about the bad and good things about what happened to do [you] in your life. Like for Ex: If you are a mom and you and your child been thru a lot and you take him or her to the beach and see them run around laughing and playing would be a good feeling for you. So when I visit the beach that is how the ocean make me feel." -T.B. 7th Grade
"When I visit the beach, I feel a lot of things about the ocean. At first I feel a little scared. Almost like it could suck me in at any moment and I'de never be seen again. Then I feel connected. I get a little tingling feeling in my stomach and feel like I belong there. I feel like its full of infinate possibilities, like I could do anything." -O.D. 7th Grade
"When I visit the beach, I feel at peace. Walking on the beach, swimming, and just to be there at all is an amazing time. When I was little in the Bahamas on a trip to visit my family we were conching or conch fishing. Off the boat, in the water, in the ocean that moment was the best part of my life. Seeing the sea life in their habitats was a breath taking experience. I love the ocean, I can't say it enough. At the beach I feel like myself without anyone bringing me down to sink to the ocean floor. The ocean is one thing I can not live without life with in it. The creatures need a home and the ocean is their home, that they can't live without it. That is what the ocean makes me feel!" -D.S. 8th Grade
"On December 15th 2015 a little turtle was born (I'm naming her Sofia). She slowly crawled into the water and tried her best to swim but kept sinking. Until another fish came along to help "hi miss do you need help" the little boy fish said. "No!! I can do fine all by myself" Sofia said. In case you didn't know Sofia is a very grumpy turtle who likes to do stuff on her own. "Well miss I want to grow up to help others" he said softly. "Fine, you can help me this one time" Sofia said. He helped her swim & swam with her to a new home. 10 years later..." -J.T.
"A species that has a ocean home is a clown fish. They live in sea-Anneomys. Sea-Anneomys are this type of sea planet, that has like pink things that swing from the top of that plant. Clown fish live in there so that they can stay away from peretors [predators]." -E.S. 5th Grade
"What does 'Stand Up For The Earth' mean to you? It means to take control. To clean up the earth, if you see trash on the ground, you should pick it up. Because we want to keep our Earth Green, and clean. We should take control of our Earth, cause if we don't take care of earth, the earth will slowly turn brown and disappear. We should strand up for Our earth." -M.H. 7th Grade
"What does 'Stand Up For The Earth' mean to me? Stand Up For The Earth means to me that we should take care of our planet. We can take care of our planet by not litering, using other vecheils [vehicles] beside a car, you could use a bike, scooter, or even an eco-green car. We should stand up for the Earth because if we don't Our Earth will get distroyed. It would get polluted and there would be nomore fresh air nor fresh water. This is what 'Stand Up For The Earth' means to me. What does "Stand Up For The Earth" mean to you." -B.G. 7th Grade