Andrew Campanella: You have so many awesome programs at The Learning Tree, including your drumming program. How does this enrich students’ education?
Lois Gregory: Our philosophy is that inner-city children should be able to experience anything that other children experience. Also, we wanted to find something common that could enrich all our students’ lives. So, we developed a performing arts program: dance, drumming, visual arts, and music. It’s a very vibrant part of our school. The children are so excited about the drumming program: It’s rhythmic, makes a lot of noise, draws attention, and is different. Our children have been invited to perform at public schools and other venues. This encourages them and makes them feel important and happy. Often, as they begin to feel good in this area, they do better academically as well.
Andrew: Can you tell me more about the international trips your eighth-grade students participate in?
Lois: As part of their education, students grow herbs and use these to make soaps, shampoos, and incense to sell. In seventh and eighth grade they learn how to save with a banking program, and the money saved goes toward an international trip. They work really hard to raise money. The trips are amazing; they widen students’ lenses for seeing the world, teaching them poise and respect for other cultures. We’ve gone to Paris, China, Ghana, Egypt, Morocco, Peru, New Zealand, and Fiji.
Andrew: What makes your school community unique?
Lois: We are a community-based, inner-city program that has been serving the Bronx for more than thirty years. Often the schools in the inner-city are overcrowded and don’t answer the needs of each student. Our school is intimate, family-oriented, and children are comfortable here. We have a very low tuition for an independent school, but many students are from low-income families and are assisted by the Children’s Scholarship Fund (CSF). It was through the CSF that we learned about school choice. The name, school choice, sounded so beautiful to me, because I’ve always believed that people in the inner-city should have choices.
Andrew: How do you encourage family involvement at school?
Lois: Before school opens each year, we have a parent orientation where we talk about our philosophy. The big things are based on principles, not material goods. We talk about how we can agree on certain principles. This year we talked about kindness and working together to emotionally support each other.
Andrew: Lastly, how do you celebrate National School Choice Week?
Lois: We have a big assembly where all grades come together and students take pictures with their yellow scarves. Everyone talks about what school choice means to them and you hear from first through eighth grade. The young students have the most tender things to say about why they like their school. They are very simple but so sweet.