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“I was inspired to help cultivate a learning environment that honored the individual and encouraged them to pursue their unique passions, whatever they may be,” says EcoSchool Founder, Ayana Verdi.
Verdi’s own children began their educational journey in New Zealand where the prevailing educational philosophy is deeply rooted in a strong connection to the earth. Upon the family’s return to the US, it became clear that many schools were disconnected not only from their places and communities, but from what’s developmentally appropriate when it comes to curriculum.
Shortly after moving to Brevard County, FL, Verdi started the Verdi EcoSchool to offer project-based teaching rooted in the environment. As a place and project-based school, EcoSchool focuses on exploring the unique history and culture of the community — this includes exposure to the challenges and obstacles that may stand in the way of continued growth and progress.
“There’s a lack of access to innovative educational programs that impact our community,” Verdi continues. “Not all children in our community have access to educational programs that can help them to reach their full potential. What we’ve learned is that diversity, access, inclusivity and equity are the vital building blocks of a healthy School Family. By exploring our challenges together, our School Family learns that while we will encounter challenges that are unique to our place, our culture, our shared history, we can also design responses that lead to solutions.”
The school’s unique approach created a need to examine new ways to track growth and progress while cultivating a more authentic view of each individual student.
"We have found it incredibly challenging to appropriately communicate EcoSchool's approach with prospective parents. As the first place and project-based urban farm school in the southeastern United States we have received reactions that range from derision to disbelief. We have worked hard to share why this approach to learning is relevant and necessary while using an iterative design process that allows us to test solutions and discard unhelpful outcomes quickly. This process requires that we be willing to fail and reflect continuously, understanding and embracing both the failures and successes simultaneously. We have learned that, as a result of our traditional educational system, most adults and children are not willing to actively fail — we avoid it at all costs — but failure is a necessary feature of the design process. Families who join our School Family tend to have a higher tolerance for vulnerability and embrace the fail, reflect, iterate continuum. The school that we were in 2017 is not the same school that we are today in 2020 and we are so proud of the failures that have paved the road to today's successes."
Project-based learning allows students to gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging, and complex question, problem, or challenge. With projects rooted in the real world whenever possible, students are encouraged to create and develop tangible solutions by working collaboratively with their school community.
“The work of the Mastery Transcript Consortium supports our efforts by legitimizing the Mastery Learning Movement and reinforces the idea that students can move through new concepts at their own pace,” says Verdi. “MTC challenges us to rethink our approach philosophically while helping to cultivate a school culture that embraces ideas like student-led learning and educational equity. We are thrilled to have found a partner and community of schools that are just as committed to the student as an individual and not the student as a number or test score.”
Ayana is an educational leader and mother of two. In 2016, Ayana and her husband John established the Verdi EcoSchool to provide hands-on educational experiences for children in the historic Eau Gallie Arts District of Melbourne, Florida. The school quickly grew to become the first K-8 urban farm school in the southeastern United States and will soon expand to include high school learners. Verdi EcoSchool joined the Mastery Transcript Consortium in early 2020.