Posts Tagged Greene Charter School

Students Curb Classroom Misbehavior with ‘Shirt of Shame’

Published by — What can happen when a group makes up its own rules and consequences.


At the beginning of this school year, chemistry teacher Brandon Haggerty facilitated a negotiation among his “Crew” students to agree on group norms for themselves.  Haggerty’s school, the Greene Charter School in rural, leafy Exeter, RI, is an Expeditionary Learning school where what would otherwise be an advisory program group are “Crews.”  Crews are like advisories, but they also have responsibilities they must accomplish as a team, like tending the vegetable garden.  Of course, creating group norms is a good idea for any work team, youth or adult.  People collaborate best if they have clear expectations of one another.  And it’s good experience for successful careers.

So these 12th-grade Crew members developed a solid set of mutual rules that govern issues like confidentiality, consensus decision-making, and my favorite: “keep it light and positive, avoid drama and vindictiveness.”  Articulating their own rules gives kids a say in the matter and an understanding of why they need rules.

But this year was a little different.  The year before, Greene had begun the work of implementing Restorative Practices, which build strong communities that include everyone, including the “bad” kids.  So this fall, Haggerty’s group went a step beyond setting mutual expectations and also mapped out a set of consequences for not adhering to their own rules.  The group — Haggerty himself represents only one of the voices — will decide which of the consequences fit the norm violation.  They brainstormed and settled on four “fallouts,” as they called them.  Which are:

*  Give two compliments — in the event of a thoughtless criticism, for example;

*  Put a nickel in a money jar — for things like a mindless swear;

*  Give up their phone to Mr. Haggerty for Crew period — and surely you know what a sacrifice this is;

*  Wear the shirt of shame for as long as the group decides — for serious offenses.

This kind of accountability is about being responsible. 

As of this writing, the specific shirt had not been chosen.  They have several contenders.  It’s clearly fun to think about.  Furthermore, the kids proudly announced that the shirt would not be washed, although you could see a startled Dean of Students, Alex Edelmann, considering pushing back on this feature.  Not that she did.  Yet.  Let the kids figure it out.

Student Jessica says, “This kind of accountability is about being responsible.  You own up to your actions to yourself and whoever you offended or hurt.  I’m thinking that this will probably keep certain people who disrupt from doing that.  I know it wouldn’t be worth it to me to have to wear the dirty shirt just to interrupt and be disruptive.”

And there you have it.  This Crew is creating their own social control system.  We all resist other people’s rules and regulations when we don’t see what’s in it for us.  When these teens get drivers’ licenses, for example, hopefully they’ll have a deeper understanding that traffic laws are there to keep them safer on the roads.

Teens are naturally narcissistic, invincible, and not fully mindful of the consequences of their own actions.  By creating consequences along with norms, they teach each other that order in their own classroom is up to them to maintain, not someone else’s work.

Granted, a shirt of shame sounds like born-again Puritanism.

It’s a little like putting people in stocks.  But this is not a sentence imposed by an adult or anyone but themselves.  Youth would naturally devise “fallouts” that are more real to them and more socially expensive than anything they can just dismiss as “the teacher doesn’t like me.”  Suspensions don’t work well as deterrents.  Instead, as Jessica points out, that shirt would seriously discourage the kinds of behavior the kids themselves dislike most.

A restorative culture helps kids and adults own their community’s health and happiness.  Everyone, adults and kids, can expect to be called on to account for their actions, and therefore learn to verbalize what they were thinking, feeling, or hoping to get from their behavior.  (Sometimes the behavior makes a lot more sense than you would have guessed.)  Restorative justice/practices often get a bad rap for being “soft,” but many students would far rather be suspended than have to stand there and explain their thinking, or lack of it – never mind wear that shirt.

Another Greene teacher, Meg Dutton, had also gotten her Crew to agree to their own restorative consequences.  And in fact, one of her students misbehaved.  But he took responsibility for his actions, and per their class consequences, he dutifully sang a song for 30 seconds.  Since that incident, the class has endured zero misbehavior.

Nope, it’s just not worth it.


Julia Steiny is a freelance columnist who also blogs about Restorative Practices and Restorative Justice. After serving on the Providence School Board, she became the Providence Journal’s education columnist for 16 years, and has written for many other outlets. As the founding director of the Youth Restoration Project, she’s been building demonstration projects in Rhode Island since 2008. She analyses data and provides communications consulting on Information Works! and the RIDataHUB, through The Providence Plan. For more detail, see or contact her at or 24 Corliss Street #40022, Providence, RI 02904.


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Graduating From High School With Great Work Habits

Published by — At this school students take ownership of their behavior as well as their learning.

“Aaaaah, someone let the chickens out.”

Melissa Hall, Vice Principal of Greene Charter School in W. Greenwich, RI, has been keeping an eye out the window behind her desk while she and others were answering my questions.  A staff member looks up from her work in the school’s cramped administrative office and offers to deal with it.  Pausing a moment, Hall says, “No… Not yet.  There are kids out there.  Let’s wait to see if they handle it.”

Clearly, the 9-graders responsible for tending to the school’s chickens got distracted and had an oops.  Chickens, compost and a garden are integral to Greene’s focus on the environment.  Each staff member heads up a “crew” of 15 students who meet daily, at least, and together they steward their local eco-system while learning to be a team.

After a bit, Hall turns her back to the window, pleased to report that the escaped poultry were back in their coop.  At no point were the adults particularly fussed about the problem.  They were on it, if need be, but far better to let the kids have a minor panic about their carelessness.  Natural consequences are great teachers.  Adults do kids no favor by jumping up to fix things for them before they have had a chance to make things right themselves.

This is huge.  And, as Head of School Deanna Duncan points out, it takes patience and gobs of attention to cultivate an atmosphere of accepting responsibility.  Many parents and teachers struggle mightily with just getting the kids to do their school work, never mind doing service in the community or turning compost.  But the Expeditionary Learning (EL) approach that Greene has adopted believes that “We are crew, not passengers.”  Adults and students alike are “strengthened by acts of consequential service to others.”  They have jobs and obligations for their mutual benefit.  They’re in it together, and they’re not passive.

But what’s even huger, to my mind, is that Greene and their EL design consultants have not only brought back from the near-dead, but enhanced one of my all-time favorite educational innovations: “advisories.”  Back in the late 1980s, the seminal work Turning Points insisted that public schools “personalize” education.  That horribly impersonal word referred to having small groups of students regularly hang with an adult to ensure that every kid was known well by at least one adult in the building.  Advisories were designed to counter the lack of attention kids were getting at home and in their communities.  So-called “factory-model” schools just replicated kids’ starvation for healthy attention, and in many ways made it worse.  Private schools have always had some form of advisory to make good on their promise to give “personal attention” to the student.

Advisories seem like a well-duh of education.

Sadly, these days, many schools that still schedule advisory time allow teachers to waste the time by letting the kids do their homework, talk or text.  At Greene “Crew” has a curriculum of its own designed to teach students Habits of Work (HOW), including giving them tasks they have to figure with their team.  The Crews stay together for 4 years, so if you’re not getting along, you’d better learn how to.  These behavioral expectations, the HOW, are spelled out in detail.  Students learn both the sort of chore-related reliability and good ‘tude habits that everyone needs to keep a job.  But math and literacy are also woven throughout.  One goal states:  “I can demonstrate basic financial math to promote my understanding of our economic system.”

The over-arching questions of Crew are:

* Who am I?

* How am I doing?

* Who do I want to be?

The habits are graded according to two big categories.  Students can get straight “A”s in their academic subjects, but if they blow their performance on HOW, privileges and choices are reduced.  If students fail either of the HOW grades, they’ll need to do 30 hours of community service over the summer.

So, for example, Jamiel, a senior from Johnston, says, “I had big trouble with the math.  Math is everywhere; it’s part of everyday life.  If you can’t do math, you can’t do much.  So I had to have tutoring over the summer.  But here at Greene, we have this “yet” thing.  I can’t do this YET.  You can’t say ‘I can’t,’ but you can say ‘I can’t do that yet.’  So I work with being in the moment with the work.  I’m growing a positive mindset.”

Crews explore colleges together and help one another with the applications.  They act as a peer-accountability system that helps emerging adults mature into habits of self-control and self-maintenance that are at least as important as academics when starting out post-high-school.

Duncan says, “Our students know what it means to learn the good habits that will help them be successful out in the world.  We intentionally spend as much time focused on climate and culture as on academics.  Students need to take ownership of their behavior as well as their learning.  We all have to be responsible to our community.”

Including those wanton chickens.

Julia Steiny is a freelance columnist whose work also regularly appears at and She is the founding director of the Youth Restoration Project, a restorative-practices initiative, currently building a demonstration project in Central Falls, Rhode Island. She consults for schools and government initiatives, including regular work for The Providence Plan for whom she analyzes data. For more detail, see or contact her at or c/o GoLocalProv, 44 Weybosset Street.


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Expeditionary Learning – Journeying Through Compelling Content

Published by — Expeditionary Learning is a project-based educational approach that takes students on intellectual voyages.

Open since 2010, Greene Charter School in West Greenwich, RI, is one of a network of a large and growing network of “Expeditionary Learning” (EL) schools.

“Expeditionary learning” sounds deliciously exotic, like maybe what Marco Polo was doing or Dr. Livingston on a scientific exploration of the African jungle.  Fact-gathering treks through terrain that requires shots and exotic transportation.

Heaven knows some students have a daily expedition riding Greene’s bio-diesel buses from as far away as Westerly, to the south, or super-urban Central Falls, north of Providence.  They arrive at the Greene campus out in Rhode Island’s boonies after as much as an hour-and-a-half each way, but boast an attendance rate above state average.  A donor gave the school the buses to support the Board’s insistence on creating a diverse school available to urban students.  (The current 9th grade class has 41 percent students eligible for subsidized lunch, up from the 12th grade’s 9 percent.  Word has gotten out.)But Greene’s expeditions are actually classroom voyages through topic areas, although working out in the field, outside or off-campus, is integral to the EL experience.  These academic explorations are semester-long, in-depth examinations of an issue that integrate at least two core academic subjects.  Greene has an environmental science focus, so one of those two is usually science.  (Most EL schools are either science or arts-focused.)

For example, the 9th graders begin their high-school careers studying food in all its complexity.  Greene’s Vice Principal, Melissa Hall, says that the students start by reading the The Omnivore’s Dilemma.  “They write food journals (recording precisely what they eat); they study mass-produced food products versus local.  What does organic really mean?  They look at food over the course of time and food seasonality.”  Together, kids and teachers draw a 100-mile radius from the school site itself to figure out what’s within that reach.  What does it cost to bring local produce to table versus the price of transporting strawberries from Mexico?  And what are the trade-offs of energy-intensive indoor farming in wintery New England, where nothing grows outdoors in the winter?

Fun questions.

Greene’s EL consultants work with the faculty to backwards-design such projects, so while kids pursue their hot topic, they’re also learning the straight-up academic requirements, specifically of the Common Core.  With students lured into questioning the food they generally take for granted, teachers make sure they test well, at least comfortably above state average.

A central idea of this approach is students “owning” their own learning.  Every classroom has a copy of the 10 EL Design Principles.  Number one, “The Primacy of Self-discovery,” explains that “People discover their abilities, values, passions and responsibilities in situations that offer adventure and the unexpected.”  If kids aren’t invested in their own learning, it’s an uphill battle for the teachers.  Head of School, Deanna Duncan, puts it this way:  “Good teaching happens when the teachers themselves are engaged in learning.”  Turning the pages of a textbook is a tedious way to teach and learn.

Demona, an 11th grader from Providence, describes “expeditionary” this way: “They take a large topic and put it in English, science, history and get it to all come together.  (The food project) makes you really aware of what you’re putting into your body.  I’ve changed my diet.”  She adds, “It’s a really rigorous course.  I did not feel prepared for the level of rigor here.”

So these expeditions are the ultimate in hands-on learning.  The originators of the approach wanted to infuse public education with the best practices of Outward Bound.  While expensive, OB has had great success with getting disengaged kids out into the wilderness, where skills and courage they didn’t even know they had rise to the surface.  Prospective Greene students too must be willing to go camping, which has been a deal-breaker for some.

The academic expeditions always result in some sort of product that demonstrates — or not — that students actually understand the topic at hand.  The food project culminates in an 8-course dinner that the 9th-graders prepare, only with local food, to the extent possible.  Kids work with local suppliers, farmers and chefs, bringing the real world to their learning.  Preparing the dinner has become one of the week-long courses called “intensives,” learning experiences that happen both in the spring and fall.  Intensives give the school a change to support the strong achievers’ pursuit of a big project or personal passion, or to give struggling students the academic help they need to keep up in academically-rigorous classes.  The dinner intensive is a plum project that motivates students to get their academic act together.

EL is growing quickly, with 32 schools in New England and many more elsewhere.  Two-thirds of the EL schools are regular district schools; the rest are charters.

The Greene Board is thrilled with how EL is working out for their students.  The reasons include EL’s approach to school culture and climate, which I’ll discuss next week.

Julia Steiny is a freelance columnist whose work also regularly appears at and She is the founding director of the Youth Restoration Project, a restorative-practices initiative, currently building a demonstration project in Central Falls, Rhode Island. She consults for schools and government initiatives, including regular work for The Providence Plan for whom she analyzes data. For more detail, see or contact her at or c/o GoLocalProv, 44 Weybosset Street.

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Determined Parents Start A School For Atypical Kids

Published by — The schools available to these parents’ kids were maddeningly non-responsive.

Dr. Amy Pratt looks me dead in the eye when she says, “The Greene Charter School would not exist if it weren’t for me and the parents.”  Christa Andrews, another co-founding-Board member of Greene, looks a little exhausted from it all, but nods approvingly.  Parent-created charter schools are a rare breed, and for good reason.

The school opened in 2010 in semi-rural West Greenwich, Rhode Island.  But its conception took place easily 10, 12 years earlier.  The Pratts, two veterinarians, run an animal hospital and clinic.  Pet-owning clients often gathered at the table in the break room to chit-chat, which often included sharing their frustrations with their children’s schools.  If only, they repeatedly mused together, if only they could start one of their own.

The universal complaint?  The schools were maddeningly non-responsive.  They didn’t seem to care.  Often they flat-out ignored parents’ concerns.  “No” came way too easily.  For example, Pratt’s son is deaf in one ear.  While the condition has its complications, enhanced sound systems and staff accommodations are neither expensive nor unreasonable.  But somehow the solutions were always partial.  The final straw was a middle school official forwarding Pratt a note from the administrators that said, “Tell the mother that that’s what she gets.”  What?  And if it’s not enough or doesn’t work?  “That’s what she gets?”

Other unhappy parents had special needs issues, but many didn’t.  Some kids struggled academically or socially.  Andrews’ break-point was when her oldest son hit the wall of his middle schools’ competitive, cliquey social scene.  With four kids, she couldn’t be battling every day just to get them to school.  She searched for alternatives.  There were none.

Interestingly, the private schools provided these women little relief.  Pratt snatched her young son from one of the priciest schools in RI when she found that the administration never told the teachers about her son’s deaf ear.

And Andrews says, “I went to private schools when I was young.  I didn’t want my kids in that (rarified) atmosphere.  But I didn’t want them bored or isolated either.”

It was thus the charter school movement itself was born.

In 1992, the first charter school opened in St. Paul, Minnesota, after a 1991 law made it possible to open schools relative free of the oppressive regulations that still make it hard for schools to be responsive to the kids in front of them.  Now, about 4.6 percent of America’s public-school kids attend charters.  Charters aren’t perfect, but they’re more accountable to parents because if they’re not responsive, they wither and die.

Not unreasonably, most charter laws mandate interested parents to partner with institutions or educators.  But in practical fact, Greene is very unusual because few charters actually result from parent groups.  Kids mature, move on; parents often do, too.  Starting a school from scratch is a monstrous task.  Recently, “parent-trigger” laws help parents transform their regular public school into a charter, but these schools already have buildings, equipment, staff and infrastructure.  And often parents bring in a Charter Management Organizations (CMO), like KIPP and Achievement First, because as educational franchisers, they’re equipped with a business plan that quickly gets a school up and running.  Parents get an alternative, but have no say in the planning.

It was love at first sight.

By the fall of 2007, Greene had the makings of a rag-tag Board who’d been educating themselves about educational alternatives.  The RI League of Charters and the state Department of Education were as supportive as they could be.  The state had a temporary moratorium on opening new charters and zero money to help start-ups.  Still, one fateful afternoon, hopeful parents and official allies gathered to hear folks give a pitch about Expeditionary Learning (EL).  EL is an educational approach, not a CMO.  They work with school communities to help them build educational responses to their needs.

When the pitch was done, no one moved or spoke.  At last they looked at each other and for the first time said confidently, “We can do this.”

I’ll discuss Expeditionary Learning and this remarkable school in coming weeks, but for today the message is:  Parents shouldn’t have to work so hard to find school staff who “own” their kids.

Yes, some parents are unreasonably demanding.  Many blame the school for their kids’ lack of discipline.  Public schools have no way to hold parents accountable for supporting their kids’ education.  Private schools just chuck such kids and parents out, further burdening the public system.  Parents can be hard.

But they would be less hard if they had plenty of public choices.

By the time Greene finally opened in 2010, Pratt’s son was finishing up at a private high school, which had been an onerous daily schlep for the Pratts.  “Throughout it all, I retained a 10 percent illusion that this school would be for him.”  And it is, sort of.  It’s a living monument to him and to parents’ powerful needs to spare such kids from battling to be heard and addressed.  Parents and kids deserve better.

Julia Steiny is a freelance columnist whose work also regularly appears at and She is the founding director of the Youth Restoration Project, a restorative-practices initiative, currently building a demonstration project in Central Falls, Rhode Island. She consults for schools and government initiatives, including regular work for The Providence Plan for whom she analyzes data. For more detail, see or contact her at or c/o GoLocalProv, 44 Weybosset Street.

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