Common Ground Grows Outdoor Classrooms

A local charter school focused on urban agriculture and ecology has expanded its outdoor classrooms in the city’s far west, thanks to a team of environmental educators funded by a two-year, $100,000 federal grant.

That’s the latest on Common Ground High School, according to a reporter in a news release Tuesday from the Common Ground director of Community Impact & Commitment Joel Toelman and Robyn Stewart, Program Manager of Common Ground Schoolyards.

According to the press release, a two-year grant of US$100,000 is proposed from the Federal Environmental Protection Agency Common Ground’s dedicated environmental educators who work each week at Common Ground, Brennan Rogers School and Elm City Montessor. This grant has also provided $5,000 in mini grants to help these schools expand their outdoor classrooms. And there is additional support from nonprofit partners Gather New Haven and Emerge CT.

See below for Tuesday’s full press release.

new port, CT, December 20, 2022 – At three New Haven public schools, students are having new opportunities to learn outdoors, exploring the urban waterways and outdoor classrooms right in front of their buildings, and helping to explore the beautiful natural areas at the foot of West Rock administer. Thanks to a two-year, $100,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency, each school now has dedicated environmental educators from Common Grounds staff on-site every week, $5,000 mini-grants to expand their outdoor classrooms, and additional support from Common Ground’s schoolyard program, collect New Haven, and show up CT.

This fall and winter, students and teachers are immersing themselves. At Elm City Montessori School, students and staff draw up plans for a new farm, students of 7 leadership and academic skills. Our students really enjoyed seeing the large scale composting operation cgsays Ramya Subramanian, who coordinates the effort for Elm City Montessori. They learned how aware Common Ground is about sorting and how careful they have to be. They were surprised at how hot it got in the compost heap. Our students climbed into the compost bin with our host who was very inclusive and connected with the students. This experience of learning about composting fits with their understanding of biomes and microbiomes.”

Just down the street at Brennan Rogers Magnet School, Common Ground environmental educator Emily Sorensen teams up with students to dig up garden beds, plant spring bulbs and prepare gardens for winter. Students learn about soil, discover the joys of playing in the rain, and practice math skills in the garden. This is a wonderful opportunity for Brennan Rogers students and staff to work together on worthwhile projects, says Lensley Gay, who directs the Family Resource Center at Brennan Rogers. I would like to thank everyone involved in creating the scholarship.”

And in between – at Common Ground High School, Urban Farm & Environmental Education Center – Teachers commit to incorporating outdoor learning on the farm, in the woods, and in the town of New Haven in each of their classes this school year.

Common Ground’s Schoolyards program has integrated environmental educators into 10 New Haven public schools to support school gardens and outdoor learning,” said Robyn Stewart, who leads this partnership and manages Common Ground’s work with local public schools. This new one EPA Grant feels exciting and different because we can go even deeper at these three schools that are our neighbors and have a long history of working together.”

We’re very excited that these three schools—connected by our neighborhood, the West River, and West Rock State Park—now have the opportunity to connect more with one another,” says Joel Tolman, who co-authored the project with Robyn Stewart directs . For example, the day before Thanksgiving, seniors from Common Ground went to Brennan Rogers and Elm City Montessori to lead outdoor stewardship projects, agricultural harvest cooking activities, and tutoring and mentoring opportunities. Later this spring, 10th grade environmental science students at Common Ground plan to give hands-on lessons to students from their neighboring schools about Wintergreen Brook and the West River watershed. Students from both schools will also travel to Common Ground for field trips.

Two community organizations – Gather New Haven and Emerge CT – have pledged to support the environmental education efforts of these schools as well. When students’ own powers and abilities are pushed to the limit, members of the Emerge Team will show up to help schools improve their outdoor classrooms. Students are given the opportunity to explore and mentor the Gather New Haven Preserves along the municipal waters of New Haven – specifically the Pond Lily Nature Preserve, just around the corner from all three schools. Young people in Gather New Haven’s Growing Entrepreneurs program will be on call to help build raised beds and contribute in other ways.

New Haven has such a strong community of schools and organizations working together to support conservation and outdoor learning,” says Common Ground’s Tolman. We are really thankful EPA for supporting this effort.”

Two years of funding to support this effort came from the EPA‘s Environmental Education Grant Program. This is one of 3 scholarships awarded in New England in 2022 and 34 scholarships nationally. More information about the scholarship can be found here.

About togetherness

Commonality is:

● The nation’s oldest environmental charter high school, helping 225 students find paths to college success, strong leadership, meaningful careers, and happy, healthy, sustainable lives.

● An environmental education center that connects more than 15,000 community members each year to the natural world and the sources of their food.

● An urban farm that exemplifies sustainable farming practices and contributes healthy, fresh food to our community.

As a whole, Common Ground is a center of learning and leadership that invites people of all ages and identities to connect with their urban environment, build community, realize their full potential and contribute to a just and sustainable world. For more information on Common Ground, visit

This work is partially funded by the US Environmental Protection Agency under Support Agreement number NO 00A004-63 to the New Haven Ecology Project. However, it does not necessarily reflect the agency’s views, and no official endorsement should be inferred.

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