At the edge of the Great Trinity Forest, in southern Dallas, a new environmental charter school has opened on the campus of Paul Quinn College.
The partnership between a public elementary school and the private college is said to be a Texas first.
A few years back, veteran science teachers Michael Hooten and Jennifer Hoag came up with the idea for the Trinity Environmental Academy. Hooten says blending a hands-on science and nature curriculum into everyday lessons needed the right place and partner.
“The Great Trinity Forest has always offered a fantastic learning laboratory,” Hooten says. “The thing is, not many people have been using it. But Paul Quinn has been here awhile and had great access to the Trinity Forest.”
Hooten heard a few years ago that Paul Quinn President Michael Sorrell was turning the football field into a working garden. So he contacted the college, located in a low-income community. Each school leader had needs the other could fill. Sorrell says the partnership was born.
“Our community needed more educational opportunities for the students,” Sorrell says. “And for communities that have had a difficult time, historically, from a socio-economic standpoint, sometimes they haven’t been led to believe those types of things are possible.”
They are if Ariel Page has anything to do with it. She grew up around here, attended Texas Woman’s University, and has come back to teach kindergarten at the Trinity charter.
“I just know that they need some place like this that could be a second home for them,” Page says. “They need some place they can go to, to feel safe, where they’re being challenged. Just things like that.”
Those elements attracted Tameka Anderson. She wanted smaller, safer classes for Chandler, her inquisitive 10-year-old. She wanted fewer, bigger, upper-grade kids. She also wanted lessons to challenge her daughter who had already skipped a grade but was still bored in her last charter school.
“My daughter came home the first week of school. She’s been intrigued with this school since day one. She told me in her words, they make learning fun. What that tells me is they’re capturing her attention from start of day until the end of day,” Anderson said.
Trinity Environmental Academy has 155 kids. For now, it has classes for kindergarteners, first graders and sixth graders like Chandler. The other day, her class hiked into the Great Trinity Forest and found a pile of old furniture and other trash. It became the day’s lesson.
“I thought we can give it to Good Will,” Chandler said. “All this stuff could have been recycled, turned into something new. They should have not just thrown it away.”
Paul Quinn realized it could recycle its empty campus classrooms and let the new charter use them. By next year, leaders of both schools say the renovated college science building will be the new home of the environmental charter.