OUR SCHOOLS:  High School Students Partner with Agencies to Create Project-based Learning Social Enterprise, Herbs of Vision

OUR SCHOOLS:  High School Students Partner with Agencies to Create Project-based Learning Social Enterprise, Herbs of Vision

Alternative high schools are crucial components to school districts. New Visions Alternative School is a place for at-risk young adults who have had difficulty finding success in a traditional school setting. Its goal is to help guide the student back to a traditional school setting, or to help the students be career-ready.

During the 2015-2016 school year, the state said of New Visions, “…the program operates as a catchall that routinely fails to provide federally mandated services to students with the deepest needs.”1

Enter the Hartford Public Schools district-guided school-design improvements, Principal Oscar Padua, and Bulkeley High School student and City-wide Student Senate President, Abraham Fattouh. Abe Fattouh then a high school junior, saw an opportunity to improve the lives of the students at the school next-door to his own, New Visions. Though not Abe’s Capstone project, the work runs parallel to the theories represented in his Capstone project.

Project founders, left to right, Matt Conway, Executive Director, Rise Up, Abe Fattouh, Bulkeley student and City-Wide Student Senate President, and Hector Nelson, New Visions Student and Project Leader.

Now a senior at Bulkeley, he reflects, “As I´ve conducted my Capstone research, and through my experiences in Hartford Public Schools, I have learned a lot about the importance of parent and student involvement to improving the quality of educational experiences for all students. The need for students in their communities to feel empowered is so important to helping them achieve academic success.”

The concepts in Mr. Fattouh’s work-in-progress Capstone include:

  • A focus on 3rd Party organizations or start-ups that work in synchrony with every school in Hartford to introduce engagement programs for parents and students.
  • A campaign on the part of the Board of Education and the Hartford Public School District to reach every parent or guardian and their student, and repair the broken relationship between the district and their constituents.
  • And the establishment of real student lead programs in every school, and monitoring of the program(s) on a consistent basis in order to be efficient and satisfied with the results (This cannot be up to the individual schools to implement, it needs to be mandatory and broadly sweeping.)

Working with Principal Padua, Abe Fattouh was chosen to intern with two non-profit organizations, Rise Up and No Child Held Back, to collaborate on a social-enterprise-based program at New Visions Alternative School named, Herbs of Vision. (A social enterprise is an organization that applies commercial strategies to maximize improvements in human and environmental well-being—this may include maximizing social impact alongside profits for external shareholders.2)

Herbs of Vision describes itself as “a start-up Social Enterprise based in Hartford, CT with a goal to bring economic sustainability and demonstrate the revolutionary power of student-centered learning. Our team is led by a motivated group of teens from Hartford that are bringing project-based learning and life skills to the school environment in Hartford.”

Indeed, guided by their teachers and Mr. Fattouh, ten to fifteen New Visions students became engaged in the work this school year, cleaning out and giving new life to the greenhouse spaces already in place at their school, now clean and filled with organic planting beds sprouting herbs including, bean sprouts, basil, cilantro, spinach, radishes, and sunflowers.  The enterprise donates the herbs and their novel “Sprout-at Home” growing kits to any interested person or organization. The project survives and gets its operational funds from donations made via its Kickstarter campaign.

The production assembly line.

The other part of the students’ work is developing their own career exploration paths into existing opportunities in industries like landscaping, house-cleaning, snow-clearing.  Career mentors work with the school providing on-the-job training to some students.

Per its principal, New Visions’ mission is to develop students’ critical thinking skills by exploring real-world issues, challenging students to research solutions, and creating ways for students to give back to their community.  The focus is on creating a collaborative effort between students, teachers, family, and community. All parties contribute to define and develop each student’s purpose so that students can find success.

District improvements made to the school this 2016-2017 school year include:

  • The school now has a full-time administrator
  • The school now has four full-time teachers who teach core subjects.
  • The school now has a 6 hour school day.
  • The school has implemented community partnerships.
  • The school serves breakfast and lunch, daily.
  • The school offers clubs, advisory, and after-school programs.
  • The school offers multiple educational excursions throughout the school year.
  • The school is planning and preparing to service special education students.
  • Teachers are participating in professional development on interdisciplinary units.

In order to engage students, each student participating in a social enterprise project is given learning and networking opportunities through community internships. These opportunities include business plan workshops, financial literacy curriculum, and etiquette and communication skills workshops. Students will also have an opportunity to develop computer skills.

The biggest impacts the social enterprises will have on the potential growth for students is connecting their “purpose work,” workforce development work, and school work together by working directly with the teachers and school to develop a project-based learning curriculum around their social enterprise work.

Hector with the student created and managed modes of production.

New Visions Principal Oscar Padua states, “Our students are at-risk and have had difficulty finding success in a traditional school setting. We are creating curriculum that incorporates restorative justice through community service. Students can reflect on their personal growth and past behaviors and identify ways they can give back and reengage into their community. Student-led projects work well because they provide interdisciplinary connections that include student-lead projects.”

“Classroom instruction becomes meaningful and relevant to students’ lives when they take charge and invest in their own education. Interdisciplinary connections also engage our students more effectively than teacher-led projects. Students will be able to advocate for themselves and their communities, which will help them to develop their purpose in life. The projects will be created by the students, so that in two years, for example, the social-enterprise may not be Herbs of Vision, but an entirely different project”

New Visions student and Herbs of Vision Project Leader, Hector Nelson concurs, “We are improving ourselves and our communities, beginning with the development of our own Purpose Statements, which become a plan for the way we re-direct our lives into community and career. People out there look at us here as ‘those delinquents at New Visions.’ Over this year, though, even students who have left here, have heard about our project, how fun and good it is to be here working on it, and they want to come back here.”

Mr. Nelson, a former student at Hartford Public High School and mathematics whiz, says while showing us the assembly line production room, that he is entered in the Choice lottery to return to school next year, hopefully in an engineering program.

States Abe Fattouh of the project’s progress, “We have created not only a project that serves the community, but also an internal, safe community that serves the students.  There may be all kinds of things going on out there on Wethersfield Avenue, but in here, the students are re-focused, engaged in learning, and in a safe space.”

You can back the Herbs of Vision program on their Kickstarter campaign page HERE. The deadline is March 22nd, 2017.

1 Hartford Courant, August 19, 2016
2 Wikipedia