(Photos by Lee Talbert/Johnson City Press)
Students of a new educational cooperative in Johnson City learned a lesson in giving back during a trip Friday to teach the value of volunteering.
Seven children with the Appalachian Learning Academy visited One Acre Cafe and Willow Springs Park to lend their tiny hands where needed.
At the pay-what-you-can eatery, the kids learned the ins and outs of operating a restaurant, the benefits of One Acre’s charity-based model and then slurped through a nutrition lesson with the establishment’s food guru, Beverly Jenkins, who made smoothies using healthier alternatives to sugar.
“Our main mission is to allow the children to learn at their own pace and learn in their strengths, but we also encourage them to learn beyond just their interests,” said Josette Fee, the academy’s field trip planner. “We also encourage other forms of learning, and take them out to interact the community for learning experiences they wouldn’t get in the classroom.”
The Appalachian Learning Academy is a cooperative venture started this school year as an alternative to the traditional public school setting.
A part-time teacher leads the multi-age classroom in a rented community room in First United Methodist Church on Maple Street with help from parents of the school’s seven children and other community members.
In addition to the usual subjects, the students also take part in extracurricular activities like drama, yoga and art, Fee said.
Fridays are field days at the school, when the students travel into the community for learning outside the classroom.
Under Fee’s tutelage, the students have built outdoor cob ovens to learn about natural building techniques, visited the local landfill to learn about recycling and frequently work in the community garden in the Tree Streets.
Nine-year-old Jack Webb said the Friday excursions are his favorite aspect of attending the school.
“There are a bunch of good things, but I like the field trips the most,” he said in One Acre’s dining room. “On one we went to the landfill, and on another we built outdoor ovens and are going to make a pizza with them.”
During the restaurant exploration, visiting the walk-in cooler and sampling Jenkins’ smoothie samples seemed to be the highlights.
After lunch, the children chased litter through Friday’s wind and rain at Willow Springs.
Fee said the day devoted to volunteering is designed to instill a sense of responsibility in the students to their communities.
“By allowing the student to learn from their community, they better realize what it means to be a member of that community,” she said. “We’re hoping they pick that up and teach them the value of serving others.”
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