Local Charter School to Train Teachers in Cultural, Environmental Sustainability

Badger Rock Resilence Center Site Plan, 09.08.2010.Badger Rock Resilence Center Site Plan, 09.08.2010.Incoming teachers at Badger Rock Middle School, a new charter school on Madison’s south side, will teach in an environment that is as new for them as it is for students.

With a garden, café, community center and green energy center on-site, teachers will be trained to bring outside elements into the classroom.

Given its emphasis on community gardening and environmental sustainability, Badger Rock hopes to attract applicants with strong feelings about environmental issues, said John Gee, executive director of the Wisconsin Charter Schools Association.

Teachers will be trained in practical gardening skills, and how to teach students to use outdoor tools, said Kristen Joiner, a member of the governing board.

Teachers will also be encouraged to take learning off-campus, and use the surrounding Rimrock-Southdale neighborhood as an extension of the classroom.

For Mark Wagler, a curriculum advisor for the school, forging linkages between the school and community will be essential to the school’s success.

Without this relationship, students and parents feel disconnected from the school itself and are usually less involved in the education process, Wagler said.

To forge these connections, teachers will be trained in the historical and cultural background of the Rimrock community, Joiner said. Community experts have already volunteered to provide information on the neighborhood.

For Wagler, the most important aspect of teacher training is to assist teachers in making curriculum relevant to the community that surrounds Badger Rock.

Raised an Amish Mennonite, Wagler said his experience in public schools was sometimes challenging because of the culture shock.

“When I went to public school it wasn’t just the content that was strange to me but it was also the ways the people who taught didn’t understand me, my background and my values,” Wagler said. “They wanted me to adapt to a mainstream culture.”

Training teachers to be culturally sensitive is about more than race or ethnicity—it can also be religious or age-based, Wagler said.

“You can’t just say, ‘here’s how we’ll interact with black students’, it’s actually living with and being part of a culture,” Wagler explained.

UW faculty experts will also lead professional workshops and training sessions on cultural identity with examples of how to teach to certain populations, said Tom Browne, assistant dean for minority affairs at UW and a consultant for the school.

Incoming teachers will also be encouraged to attend diversity workshops and international cultural competency conferences, Browne said.

Since Badger Rock teachers will be hired through the Madison Metropolitan School District, most training will be conducted by experts within the district itself.

Badger Rock plans to hire union teachers, said Jamie Domini, project coordinator for Badger Rock, in contrast to other Madison charter schools such as Madison Prep Academy, which has decided not to hire union members.

Once teachers are hired in April, training should begin in spring and continue through the summer.

Proponents for the school expect the first wave of teachers to set the bar for those who come in the future.

“Whoever it is we hire this first year before we get to the full complement of teachers has got some pretty big shoes to fill, to be able to do all the things that need filling,” Domini said.