Expanding Green Charter Looks to Increase Options in Queens

By Jeanmarie Evelly on March 31, 2014 7:33am 

 Matthew Greenberg, 51, founded the Growing Up Green Charter School in Astoria in 2009.
Matthew Greenberg, 51, founded the Growing Up Green Charter School in Astoria in 2009.
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DNAinfo/Jeanmarie Evelly

ASTORIA — Growing Up Green Charter School in Astoria, where students engage in eco-friendly learning based around activities like gardening, recycling and composting, is going through some growing of its own.

The K-5 school at 39-27 28th St. will expand next year to include a middle school, according to founder Matthew Greenberg, who said he's also looking to open a second elementary school outpost of the charter in the coming years — part of his goal to bring more options to families in western Queens.

"Our goal is to open up a second school in two years in this ever-expanding community," he said, adding that Growing Up Green, which currently serves a population of 492 students from K-5, received about 1,500 applications last year for just 100 open slots.

"Why not provide more opportunities for parents?" he said.

Greenberg, 51, founded Growing Up Green in 2009 after doing teaching stints in an variety of city schools, including Catholic schools in Manhattan, the private Bank Street School and the public Manhattan School for Children on the Upper West Side.

He said he incorporated elements from all of those different teaching experiences into his vision for Growing Up Green.

"When I opened this school up I tried to really bring all of those best qualities here," he said.

Q: What do you think makes Growing Up Green unique?

A: We're a green school so we really do focus on science and social studies. We do composting and recycling. We have green ambassadors here, we have a greenhouse that we use for learning, we have outdoor plant and animal life that we use through science instruction, social studies instruction as well.

We also have tremendous, tremendous parent support. Family support is really important to us. Families are in classrooms helping out, invited in for morning meetings. They go on field trips with us.

Q: Do you think any of the potential changes going on with the new mayoral administration, in relation to charter schools, are going to affect Growing Up Green?

A: We're excited by the changes. We're excited by what the new chancellor has to say about progressive education.

The new chancellor asked folks to call her Carmen, so I will — Carmen likes noise in classrooms because the buzz in classrooms leads to real learning going on. She also [is] a believer in middle schools and how they need to improve, and we agree with that.

She believes in project-based learning, she believes in museums as a way to open up the minds of children, so extending out from the classroom. She wants to collaborate, she wants charter schools and public schools to share best practices.

Q: What prompted your decision to expand to a middle school?

A: I think we want to provide another alternative for parents, and I think that's what the charter school movement is all about … that parents have more choices, and they can choose between a local public school and a local charter school.

And we give all families a choice — we have a good special education population, our numbers are right there with the district, as is our ELL population.

We don’t turn children away. We accept all children into our building and I think that’s an important thing for folks out there to know as well. I think sometimes charter schools get the reputation of not accepting all children, and that's certainly not the case.

Q: Why do you think Growing Up Green attracts so many applicants?

A: I think what parents see here is the opportunity for their voice to be heard and their child's voice to be heard, and parents really appreciate that.

It's a very basic thing in life to have a say in a child's education and I think too often, perhaps, a parent and their importance in their child's education is overlooked, so we don't overlook it. Every parent here is important, every child is important, every voice is important.

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