by Andrew Campanella with Savanna Buckner
Education isn’t just about classroom instruction. The Learning Tree Cultural Preparatory School in New York realizes this, which is why you’ll find its students growing peppermint, lavender, and lemongrass in the school’s garden.
Lois Gregory, founder of The Learning Tree, explains, “They get very, very busy. They are young entrepreneurs. They make natural soaps and shampoos and incense from the plants, and they sell these at a local college that has a big fair once a year. Our children also do a workshop at that fair on soapmaking.”
Besides learning how to make and sell soap, the seventh and eighth grade students learn how to invest in repurchasing supplies, how to measure profit, and how to use a banking program to save money.
The work itself can be rewarding, but students have a bigger goal to look forward to— an international trip. The money raised helps eighth-grade students participate in the school’s Global Exposure Program, which includes learning about and visiting a foreign country.
The Learning Tree’s first international trip was to Paris. The trips are chaperoned by school staff and are designed to broaden students’ horizons and help them dream big about their own futures. Since the first trip, students have traveled to Mexico, China, Ghana, Senegal, Egypt, Morocco, Cuba, France, India, Turkey, Peru, New Zealand, and Fiji.
Many of the students who participated in these trips had never been far from their Bronx community before. “There is some exposure to beauty and wonder just from being in New York,” said Gregory, “but it’s nothing like taking children international and letting them see that they are an integral part of the bigger world.”
She continued, “We always let them know that, when they travel internationally, they are travelling as young ambassadors. They are representing not just themselves but a bigger entity. They learn poise and respect for other cultures from this experience. It’s just amazing.”
Besides introducing students to other cultures, the Global Exposure Program allows students to experience how hard work and collaboration can turn a dream into a reality.
The Learning Tree is no stranger to financial constraints, as many of its students come from low-income families. Despite this challenge, student effort, parent collaboration, and assistance from private scholarship organizations like Children’s Scholarship Fund make the international trips possible each year.
“Whatever any school can do, we can do. We just have to find a way,” said Gregory. Once the eighth-graders realize that a trip to Morocco is reachable, they realize that anything is reachable, she said.
The international trips are just one example of how The Learning Tree educates and inspires with students’ happiness in mind. As Gregory put it, children need a well-rounded education, and that comes not just from the “three R’s” but also from other kinds of enrichment, like travel, music, and even growing herbs. To discover what makes him or her happy, the whole child needs to be engaged at school.
“When you have this holistic approach, the children become happier,” she said. “They stop worrying about what they can’t do and they’re excited about what they can do.”
That’s a truly inspiring approach to education.