Community Created With Cob

Written by Deborah Marcus. Posted in Daily Life at Unity Charter School, Education, Sustainability, Uncategorized, Whole Child Education

By Mindy Quirk IMG_1535

“You want to build a what?” This was the most common question I was asked after calling someone for free dirt. Actually I get asked that same question often but it wasn’t until recently it was asked specifically about dirt. I explained to everyone I called that I wanted to build a Cob bench. I think most people just didn’t want the hassle of dealing with me but a few became interested and that’s one of the reasons I wanted to build a Cob bench at Unity. A spark of interest is an opportunity to learn and connect to something unfamiliar.

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I don’t remember the first time I saw a picture of something built out of Cob but I know the idea started about three years ago. I was on the Sustainability Committee of the Board of Trustees at the time and we were looking into purchasing seating for the play area. The older students needed a place to draw or talk during their recess and as always at Unity we investigate sustainable options when purchasing items for the school. Cob is an extraordinary building material, it is cheap, malleable, a thermal mass, fire proof and beautiful. To make Cob you need soil that has around 15-30 percent of clay, straw, gritty sand and imagination. It is one of the first building materials used by humans and has been used all over the globe.

We had run interest groups as part of the Eco Schools program about developing our outdoor space. Time and time again the kids said they wanted a gazebo – the school’s previous location had a gazebo and the kids missed it. Buildings and structures mean something to us that is inexplicable yet intrinsic. They give us a sense of place, a sense of home and belonging. When I saw Cob, I knew it was perfect for Unity and working with it would be an experience in sustainability for the students that would be meaningful.The Parents Association was proud to sponsor this valuable project.

Because our soil is a sandy loam it would not work for Cob. I had to find another source of clay rich soil. Throughout this process I reached out to everyone I saw that had a bit of dirt that looked like it would compact. I drove on construction sites and called developers. I finally called a man named Howard Buell from Eastern Services, he was helpful and seemed genuinely interested in the project. When I drove out to look at his dirt I was surprised to see he was my kids’ rugby coach. When you reach out to your community and realize they are there all around you it gives you a feeling of connection. Howie offered as much dirt as needed and free delivery. I felt such relief after calling half of New Jersey asking for dirt. Now that we had the dirt we had to build the base for our bench.

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One thing people may not realize about charter schools is that we must pay rent in order to have our facilities. We actually only receive a percentage of the money allocated for each student. As you can imagine we must do more with less. It always helps to have a landlord who believes in what you’re doing. The Evergreen Cemetery Association has been a supportive and cooperative organization with which to work. The gravel and boulders were found on site on the adjacent lot and trucked over by the Evergreen maintenance crew. Bringing the materials would have been helpful and donating them even better but the Evergreen crew actually constructed the base for us as well. Honestly, on the Saturday morning when I saw the base constructed I nearly cried with gratitude! With the help of parent volunteers we were able to adjust the base to the size needed. When I see acts of community such as Howie from Eastern Services Evergreen Association’s maintenance crew and parents on a Saturday morning it is proof that community sustains us.

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After the base was settled and ready to be built upon it was time for the workshop! Rain was predicted for the first day so we spent the day doing soil tests and educating the students on cob and inspiring them with its possibilities. On the second day Sigi Koko from Down to Earth Designs came to Unity. It was exciting to meet someone who had worked with Cob for 22 years. She has not only a wealth of expertise but was also patient and kind. She worked well with kids and demonstrated an understanding for children that is rare to find. Some of the children were easier to convince than others to jump into a tarp filled with mud but everyone was able to participate in some capacity. If you’ve ever watched kids playing in mud you’ve seen the magic that happens – the freeing of boundaries and an opening of physicality and creativity. They are completely engaged and in touch with something most humans lost years ago. There is something so transformative about being covered in earth. You are released from the day to day protocols and are open to the wilderness that lurks within. I love it. It’s a connection to our roots, a time when we were closer to the Earth, closer to the elements that allowed life to flourish on this planet. Sigi understands this connection to the Earth and she shared it with our Unity Community. We had three wonderful days creating a place for our community to communicate and learn.

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There are so many people to thank for bringing the Cob bench to life. Thank you Evergreen Cemetery Association for being supportive, donating supplies and building with us. Thank you to Howie Buell for delivering and donating soil. Thank you to Marek Dolak for sharing your skills with stones and spending your Saturday moving them. Thank you Kendall and Nan for helping move the stones. Thank you Marianne Trent for joining me on another crazy adventure and being there everyday. Thank you Kirstin Sechler for finding a place for the Cob, being willing to shovel buckets of dirt into my van from random construction sites and managing the construction of the sheltering roof for our bench. Thank you to the teachers and staff for getting in the dirt and making time for the workshop to happen. Finally, thank you to the kids for your enthusiasm and work with this entire process. We created a special place for our community and put our soul into a structure that will stand as a reminder of our commitment to sustainability for years to come.

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“The mother art is architecture. Without an architecture of our own we have no soul of our own civilization.”

― Frank Lloyd Wright

About The Author

Mindy Quirk is a mom of three who has been at Unity for 8 years. She’s served on the Board of Trustees, the PTO Board and been a Green Team Co-Leader.

The opinions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Unity Charter School. Unity Charter School is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the author.

Field Day 2015: Fun for All

Written by Deborah Marcus. Posted in Daily Life at Unity Charter School, Health and Nutrition, Uncategorized, Whole Child Education

By Alyssa Faber Field Day pic

On Friday, June 12th, the staff and students of Unity Charter School descended on Collinsville Park for the annual Field Day. Students in K-8 multi-age groups travelled around the park all morning participating in a variety of games. The Drippy Bucket Relay, Noodle Stacking, and Splash Tag provided much needed relief from the hot weather. The always popular Shoe-Fly had students competing to kick their shoe the furthest. Basketball, Four Square, and Newcomb had students using their sports skills to work together. Running bases, Dizzy Bat Races, Potato Sack Races, Hopscotch, Hula Hoops, and Parachutes were stationed around the park. Students were able to participate in a sample of Lawn Games with Bocce, Horseshoes, Ladderball, and Bean Bag Toss. Children were kept energized with popcorn and watermelon provided by the Parent’s Association. The event was enjoyed by all!

About the Author

Alyssa Faber is the Health and Physical Education teacher at Unity Charter School. This is her second year at Unity, having worked at various schools and lived in the Philadelphia suburbs of South Jersey for the prior five years. She attended La Salle University where she played 2nd Row on the Women’s Rubgy team and developed a passion for sports, fitness, and health. Alyssa has been a certified lifeguard for 15 years and looks forward to swimming every summer. She enjoys hiking with her dog, Marley, when the weather is nice and spending time finding ways to “Alyssafy” (™) games in an effort to try something new every day.

The opinions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Unity Charter School. Unity Charter School is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the author.

Arts Alive at Unity!

Written by Deborah Marcus. Posted in Daily Life at Unity Charter School, Field Trip, Middle School, Sustainability, Uncategorized, Whole Child Education

By Karen Bloch
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On Thursday April 30th, the Panda Learning Group hosted an Artists Cafe as the culmination of their project based learning. We had an amazing turn out and were so excited to see so much lovely art and so many talented performers come together for this special night. As a fundraiser for the Middle School overnight trips, we raised $798.69!

As a teacher, I often refer to myself as a guide or a coach. This project was born from a class brain storm about ways we could raise funds while doing something to bring the community together. The students organized into teams to handle art, food, talent and advertisement. Each team worked collaboratively to focus on their area as part of the larger picture.

It was wonderful to see the students so excited about owning this project and to witness them problem solving, collaborating and reaching out to the community with grace and professionalism. By the night of the event they had taken ownership of everything from food tables to art prices, from hosting the event to inspiring performers.

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I do believe we have created a new annual event as this brought out teachers, families, alumni and community members for a wonderful time. We truly hope you all enjoyed the night and we cannot wait to host it again as we go forward!

About the Author

Karen is in her thirteenth year as a teacher at Unity and her twenty third year of her teaching career. With a background in Theater, holding a BA in Theater Arts from Gettysburg College, she is enjoying her work as Unity’s Performing Arts teacher tremendously. She lives in Sussex County with her husband, daughter and a small menagerie of animals.

The opinions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Unity Charter School. Unity Charter School is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the author.

Music, Martial Arts & Memories

Written by Deborah Marcus. Posted in Daily Life at Unity Charter School, Education, Field Trip, Uncategorized

By Karen Bloch

On Tuesday April 28th, grades 3-4-5 traveled into NYC to attend a tour and performance at Lincoln Center. Being so close to NYC, as a theater teacher I am always thrilled when we are able to take advantage of the world renowned resources available to us. We had a peaceful bus trip in and the looks of excitement and awe on the children’s faces was wonderful as we stepped onto the plaza at Lincoln Center.

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Our tour guides met us quickly and our groups set off to explore the wonders of the facilities. We had a chance to go into the director’s booth and watch the Metropolitan Opera rehearsing and to see some of their costumes up close. At the jewelry box theater we saw dancers practicing for the Spring season of the American Ballet and learned about different types of stage design and flooring.

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After our tours, we gathered to watch a performance of Deoro: Balance in Two Worlds. The musicians played cello bass guitar and drums and the martial artists were breathtaking. The lead performer did a great job of including the children and our kids asked some great questions and a number of them were even invited onstage to learn some martial arts moves!

On the way home it was wonderful to hear the children discussing the performance animatedly and we talked a bit about how inspired they were by the performers and their talents. Any opportunity to engage in live theater and to meet and speak with professional artists is a great one! I am very proud of how polite and engaged the children were and I cannot wait to enjoy even more opportunities to explore the Performing Arts!

About The Author

Karen is in her thirteenth year as a teacher at Unity and her twenty third year of her teaching career. With a background in Theater, holding a BA in Theater Arts from Gettysburg College, she is enjoying her work as Unity’s Performing Arts teacher tremendously. She lives in Sussex County with her husband, daughter and a small menagerie of animals.

The opinions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Unity Charter School. Unity Charter School is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the author.

Gardening at The Urban Farm

Written by Deborah Marcus. Posted in Daily Life at Unity Charter School, Field Trip, Sustainability, Uncategorized, Whole Child Education

By Deb Marcus
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On Thursday, April 23rd, the Kindergarten, K/1 and 1/2 Learning Groups had a walking field trip to The Urban Farm, New Jersey’s largest school garden which is located at the Morris School District’s Lafayette Learning Center. Despite the unseasonably cool weather, the kids were enthusiastic walking to the garden and excited to see Farmer Shaun.

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Farmer Shaun met us at the entrance and invited the kids in. He quickly reviewed the rules of the farm before bringing the students over to a vegetable bed. Here, he and his assistant explained how the vegetables we were going to taste had been growing all winter while protected by coverings. They handed out pieces of kale, collard greens, and spinach for the kids to taste. Believe it or not, most of the children liked what they tasted and asked for seconds!

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After tasting the various vegetables, the children were given shovels and provided the opportunity to dig small holes and plant new vegetables that could be grown during the spring. The children loved getting their hands in the dirt. One child found a worm and desperately wanted to take it back with her!

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The last activity at The Urban Farm was checking out the chickens and new chicks. The children were amazed by how fast the little chicks were running around the pen. We tried to be quiet so as not to startle them or upset the chickens.

The field trip ended with a walk back to school. It was a wonderful time and it seems we all walked away with a new vegetable we’d consider at the dinner table!

About the Author

Deb Marcus is a parent of a second grader and kindergartener at Unity and an active member of the Communications Committee. She has been a member of the CommUnity for three years and enjoys managing the Facebook Page and Blog as well as participating in classroom events.

The opinions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Unity Charter School. Unity Charter School is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the author.