The result was a 264 square-foot display that consisted of 22 city blocks, one from each student, and was comprised entirely of recycled materials situated on wooden platforms that could be connected for the school's exhibition, which took place during the first week of June.
The blocks were separated again so each student could bring home his or her individual block.
The project is one of several service-learning initiatives that define the curriculum at Hoboken Charter, exposing children to an education that goes beyond traditional textbook learning and involves them in a hands-on approach intended to promote a sense of social responsibility at a young age.
"Children learn from observation, hands-on experiences, and participating in the world around them," said third grade teacher Karen Lisa Shain, who came up with the idea for the project and received a Certificate of Recognition from the New Jersey State Department of Education for her work this past year. "It just makes sense that children learn from their own backyard. It's amazing how quickly their skills have improved as a result of this [hands-on] approach."
Shain incorporated various disciplines into the project, particularly mathematics and writing assignments when it came to the planning phase.
Hoboken Charter School Principal Alfredo Huereca also played a role in assisting the third grade class in completing the Model City Project, which the students titled the "Mixed-up City."
"This is just what the school is all about, kids taking an active role in their learning process and, in turn, creating an experience they will have for the rest of their lives," said Huereca. "It's making [the students] aware of their potential and what they can do to change their environment and their society. It's entitling them at a young age with a sense of responsibility."
The making of the 'Model City'
After speaking with residents and taking field trips around Hoboken to survey the urban landscape, the students began forming ideas as to how they would plan out their own municipality if given the chance.
One of the most pressing problems students had to resolve was creating a balance between what they felt was important to a community and what they knew was essential. Nine-year-old Theo Mangold of Hoboken, who advocated for the creation of more parks, also stressed the need of having apartment buildings to pay for upkeep and a police department for safety.
Mangold's pragmatism was shared by his classmate Tony Lopez, a resident of West New York, who included a museum/library, residential units, a pool, and a movie theater/roller skating rink all on one square block.
Lopez's reason for combining recreational pursuits with housing was that it allowed people to work, play, and consequently spend their money all in the same area, without having to waste time traveling to other regions of the city.
Not all students were focused solely on the needs of the city's two-legged residents. Nine-year-old Sofia Rothkegel of Hoboken, a self-proclaimed animal lover, included on her block a shelter and veterinary hospital for "stray dogs and other animals who need to be rescued."
When it came to Hoboken, all three students had suggestions for how the city could improve, with Rothkegel and Mangold both arguing for the creation of more park space. "There are not many places to relax. All the parks are crowded. And we need a baseball field," said Mangold.
Lopez revealed his colors as a young preservationist by adding, "Hoboken needs to fix old buildings and not build new ones."
Hoboken Charter receives national recognition
In May, Hoboken Charter was named one of the nation's top 53 charter schools by the Center for Education Reform (CER), a non-profit organization that is focused on helping communities in over 40 states combine school policy with the needs of that particular community.
"The effort of many people went into the recognition of Hoboken Charter School as one of the top charter schools in New Jersey and on a [list] of the top 53 in the nation," said consultant and former Director of Education for Hoboken Charter Donald DePascale, who still works out of the school. "We have consistently endeavored to raise the bar and, in turn, to encourage all children to be the best they can be. We look forward to continued success for our diverse student population."
In addition to its national standings, Hoboken Charter was ranked second in the state by CER, behind the Princeton Charter School.
Having first opened its doors in September of 1998, Hoboken Charter is one of two charter schools in the city, the other being Elysian Charter which opened a year earlier. Together, the two schools provide parents who cannot afford to enroll their children in a private school with an alternative to Hoboken's regular public schools.
Hoboken Charter's 249 students are divided between the third and fourth floors of the Demarest Building at Fourth and Garden streets, with 191 elementary and middle school students on the third floor and 58 high school students on the fourth.
Students are selected for Hoboken Charter through a random lottery that is held before the start of every school year.
Although the school receives most of its funding through the Hoboken Board of Education from state and local tax dollars, it does not report to the city's Board of Education. Instead, it has its own Board of Trustees that handles the school's curriculum and administrative issues.
- MM Michael Mullins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.