Creating the Education We Want for Our Children
Our mission is to create a sustainable model of education which provides all students with accessible curriculum, based on college preparatory standards while developing life and social skills in a mixed-age setting. We are a K-12, teacher-run school with a focus on sustainability. We work to bring hands-on learning to our students, but with a foundation in academic standards using the principles of Forest School and Permaculture, We use our Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) as our goal-setting tool and our schoolwide action plan.
Laurel Tree Charter School began twenty-nine years ago. The school started in Brenda’s house with seventeen children that first year. The idea was to create an amazing education and magical childhood for her own children and some of their friends – to be able to do more than a regular school could, to be able to get out and into the community, to provide a real-world education. We read, and cooked, and traveled, and explored the community. The kids grew, and so did the school. We kept adding teachers and students. We moved seven times to accommodate our growing population.
We got grants and training along the way to help with the development of our vision. The Pac-Tin grant in 2010 brought us enough funding to get training toward Creating a Sustainable School. Many of us got our permaculture certificate and took coursework in Facilitation, School Gardens, and Creating Sustainable Communities. We sent a team to the Alice Waters Edible Schoolyard program for training in 2016. Another group of six teachers went to training in Portland on Permaculture for Educators in 2017 and our kindergarten teacher got her certification in this new thing called Forest School. Slowly we’ve been building our expertise and knowledge base and moving towards a new kind of education, but one that builds on what we’ve been doing all along.
Currently, Laurel Tree is a kindergarten through twelfth-grade school with a focus on sustainability and community. We are a free public school, open to all. 81% of our kids go on to college. Many of them attend College of the Redwoods concurrently while still enrolled at Laurel Tree. Teachers work in teaching teams and handle the administration of the school collectively. We focus on community skills such as mediation, mindfulness, and restorative justice, as well as the Common Core Standards and the National Standards for Sustainability. We have been accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) since our chartering and received a six-year with a mid-cycle check-in on our last visit. We are members of the Charter School Development Center.
In the last six years, we have begun a Forest Kindergarten program – the only public school program of its kind in the U.S. Our kindergarten teacher is certified as a Level 3 Forest Practitioner. Many of our staff took Forest School STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) training from the University of San Diego. This year-long practicum will allow us to continue to blend outdoor learning with rigorous academic standards for all our students.
After years of renting in Arcata, we are ready to build a school site that reflects our vision and facilitates our mission. We've purchased 4.5 acres in McKinleyville that borders the Hammond Trail. We plan to create a school that looks more like a community than an institution; one that has learning spaces both inside and outside, that facilitates learning experiences in the community as well as the classroom, and that provides spaces for whole-group and small group work. We envision spaces designed for mixed-age groups to work and play together, along with science labs, a library, and kitchen classrooms. Gardens, food forests, and natural play spaces are as important to us as classrooms and computer labs. Raising animals, restoring habitats, and working on community projects are part of our planned curriculum. We plan to create a school that is net-zero, that generates all the energy that it uses, and that uses the idea of a tree as its model by generating its own power, creating habitat, storing water, and improving the community. This site will provide healthy spaces for kids to learn both inside and out and will blur the lines between inside and outside, school and community. We will continue to create spaces for the kinds of learning and teaching that we aspire to (sustainable, project-based, community-minded, college-bound.)