Down a gravel path, surrounded by 350 acres of forest sits Roxborough's Green Woods Charter School. This week, Philadelphia Magazine named the public school as one of the "best places to raise your kids" in the city.

"It's kind of like winning that Emmy when your name's called. You know your staff works hard," said Jean Wallace, Green Woods Charter School's CEO. 

The K-8 school prides itself in the EIC model (Environment as an Integrating Context) for learning. The students spend time outside with the wildlife that surrounds the school, taking hikes, writing journal entries and studying the ecosystem in the Delaware River's estuary.

Wallace says the teachers are constantly tweaking the curriculum to keep students engaged.

"They're pretty remarkable about the ideas that they bring to the classroom. Not only about the content but how they teach it," Wallace said.

Some of Green Woods teachers use songs and visuals in the classroom. Juli Vitello, seventh and eighth grade Language Arts and Social Studies teacher, incorporates documentaries, nonfiction and fiction text in lesson plans, along with film.

Current projects for students include looking at economics for the whaling industry, writing journals in language arts and following whale pods on Google Earth. They also work on "Get Real," a unit about how the money the students spend impacts the rest of the world.

"We make everything relevant to the students," Vitello said, referring not only to the use of technology, but also content.

Parents rave about the integration of nature in the classroom.

"You really are in an absolute oasis," said Megan Flores, parent of a first and third grader. "They truly incorporate outside/inside. They're constantly reassessing and reevaluating what they're doing to make sure their curriculums are building toward each other."  

She's even felt influenced by what her children are learning. The Flores family recycles more now and recently began composting.

Green Woods functions through a lottery pool and practices a sibling policy; if one child is accepted, so are the siblings.

"I really loved the idea that the kids were going to be outside and learning in and from the environment," said Karen Aves, parent of a second and sixth grader. "I think these days I see a lot in the schools that kids are sitting at desks," but at Green Woods "it's active learning," she said adding the classrooms consist of about 24 kids, as opposed to 33 in most city schools.

The school currently has 225 students. In April, the School Reform Commission approved a modification application, allowing the school to increase by 675 students within the next seven years.

The school leases space from the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education but is looking for an interim site for 2012 and a permanent site for the future.


for NewsWorks