STATEN ISLAND — A charter school planned for Elm Park would be Staten Island's first to offer children hands-on environmental education.
The Staten Island Green Charter School for Environmental Awareness (SIGCS), founded by Dr. Carole Reiss, plans to have start its first semester of grades K-1 in September 2013.
The school is currently putting the final edits to its application, which is due to be sent to the state next month. If accepted, the SIGCS would be the fourth charter school in the borough, according to the DOE's website.
Several fundraising events are also being planned, with two scheduled this month, and a documentary is being filmed to create awareness of the proposal.
Reiss plans to open the school at 150 Granite Ave., Elm Park, and is in the process of securing the space.
In addition to regular subjects found in other schools, SIGCS will teach hands-on environmental education, said Reiss, a former Staten Islander who moved to New Jersey.
"The students will actively be doing hands-on activities so that we can make it a more safe, sustainable environment," she said.
The school plans to have an urban garden on its grounds and work with green businesses — such as non-toxic paper plants and a pollution company — to give students hands-on training for potential environmental jobs in the future, Reiss said.
"The children will actually be partners with green business owners and developers to promote healthier greener lifestyles," she said. "The children will be working for a career goal, and actually be working on a college track from their time in kindergarden."
Aside from environmental studies, the school will teach Mandarin and stress high literacy rates for students.
"Our school is based on literacy," Reiss said. "We are opening a school because we want people on Staten Island to be more literate."
Reiss plans to have 85% of her students reading above grade level within two years, something she said the state requires.
"Of course there were skeptics," she said. "What we are saying is we have to, we have no choice. If we don't have that we will close."
In the first year, the school plans to admit 100 students, with 25 per class. Admission will be decided by a lottery if applications go over the student limit.
The school will provide students with meat and gluten-free lunches, something Reiss believes will contribute to a better learning environment for children.
Reiss, who previously started an organic food co-op on the Island, started to work on the school in 2009. She was fed up with the current school system in New York, and wanted to create a school with more hands-on learning that focused on the area they live in.
"I've been a teacher for 35 years and I'm not happy with the present system," she said. "I always felt that having a school where kids are focused on the area would be really a more relevant way to actively engage kids in learning."
Reiss said that because of the environmental hazards on Staten Island, mainly from the former Fresh Kills Landfill, opening the school here was a perfect fit to educate future generations on how to fix these issues.
"Because of all the problems on Staten Island caused by the environmental pollution, we wanted to open a school that would make children have envronmental education," she said.
Reiss said that while some people were skeptical of their literacy rates, the community reaction to the plan has been overwhelmingly positive.
"Everyone loves the idea of the school," she said. "They see importance of environmental education."
Some community leaders said that they are in favor of the plan.
"Anything that allows our children to preserve the environment is an excellent idea," said Leticia Remauro, chair of Community Board 1, who does not have to vote on the plan.
"We're constantly striving to improve our education, that's what we have to do as a community is make sure there are the best choices."
The school will hold two fundraisers this month, on June 25 at the Richmond County Ballpark and on June 28 at the Silver Lake Veranda Club, where they will film a documentary about the school and the need for environmental education.
The school's edited charter, which was first submitted to the State University of New York in April, is due on July 2.
While Reiss said the process with SUNY has been long and difficult, she's been glad the state has been so thorough with the application.
"It's a very vigorous process with the state, which is a good thing," Reiss said. "It's been hard, but the school will be perfect by the time it is authorized."