by Marianna Levine
This past Monday, as kids were arriving back to school after their winter break, Congressman Tim Bishop started his New Year with a visit to the Bridgehampton School. Bishop, who is a member of Congress’ Education Committee, as well as a former Southampton College administrator, has taken an interest in Bridgehampton’s innovative Environmental Design Program. It is a program that is part of a larger 40-year-old Career Academy sponsored by Long Island Works Coalition (LIWC), a division of Goodwill Industries of Greater New York and New Jersey.
Congressman Bishop was joined by Goodwill Industries President and CEO, Bill Forrester, as well as several other representatives of Goodwill Industries, LIWC, and the school’s public relations firm, Mullen and McCaffrey, on a tour of the program given by Superintendent Dr. Diane Youngblood, Principal Jack Pryor, and Environmental Design teacher Judiann Carmack-Fayyaz.
“I’ve been looking at ways to solidify education and ways to prepare students for work,” said the congressman. “I had been focusing on community colleges not on high schools.” But Bishop was impressed with Bridgehampton’s efforts to give students an earlier start in practical education.
Bridgehampton’s Environmental Design Career Academy is a program where “students learn the art, science, and business of landscape architecture and environmental design through hands on experiential learning,” according to the school’s brochure. It was a program that Youngblood took over from the private Ross School, when that school decided to discontinue it.
The concept of a Career Academy came about originally to address the needs of students who did not connect well with theoretical learning, as well as to assist the community by providing an appropriately prepared worker. It has since evolved, according to Cheryl Davidson, Executive Director of LIWC.
“We started with high risk students but have now expanded to include AP students in our program,” she said. “We’ve found that kids in the Career Academy have increased (high school) graduation rates and an increased probability of continuing on in higher education.”
Davidson continued to explain, “What distinguishes the Career Academy from traditional academics is what we refer to as the new three Rs: rigorous academics, relevancy in learning, and relationships with the greater community. In effect we’re creating a pipeline for students to enter the workforce.”
After asking a few specifics about the program such as whether courses were embedded in the school’s curriculum (the environmental design and culinary arts courses are popular electives), and if the courses were solely for Bridgehampton residents (they are currently, but Dr. Youngblood has been trying to get the Sag Harbor School District involved), Congressman Bishop added, “It sounds like these courses have a pretty broad applicability; it sounds like you have things well in hand.”
The environmental design course is co-taught by Carmack-Fayyaz, an environmental design teacher and Joanne Palisi, a business teacher. The culinary arts course is also co-taught by Carmack-Fayyaz and science teacher Natalia Nichols. The reason for this non-traditional collaboration is that the courses are interdisciplinary and evolve with student interest.
Carmack-Fayyaz notes that there are certain advantages to having this program in a smaller school such as Bridgehampton.
“It does make it sometimes more challenging, but our model is integral academic programming,” she said. “In a smaller school we can be more creative about what that means.”
The environmental design program, for example, was originally solely about landscape design; but as more students expressed an interest in architecture and designing interior spaces they evolved the program to teach that as well.
The program has had several successes, including recently receiving a so-called Cinderella grant of $9,000 from National Grid to build a green house in addition to the already student-designed and successfully completed edible schoolyard. Currently, the school has plans to create a solar powered irrigation system, but is looking for community support to implement the program. Congressman Bishop stated he might be able to help the school with this or other components of the program.
Also, Carmack-Fayyaz related that several of the program’s students have won specific competitions or grants. Environmental Design student, Tanetha Clark, won the Hampton’s Library garden design competition, and two of their other students won AFS grants with the Career Academy’s assistance to study abroad.
Karen Means, senior vice-president of Youth and Community Services for Goodwill Industries noted that programs such as the Career Academy are vital to the greater community since it introduces students to careers that will need them in the future. She cited a startling statistic; “We had 400 engineering jobs to fill on Long Island last year, and only 40 students in the area graduating in that field.”