The Ecopreneur Next Door: Roosevelt Academy Principal Bruce Bivins

Bruce Bivins was busy serving as Principal of West Seattle High School, when an opportunity knocked on his door that he couldn’t refuse.

Roosevelt High School, an under-performing school in Los Angeles, wanted him as its Principal. Well, actually, the school wanted him to be one of its principals, to be precise.

While sharing a title at a high-needs school might sound like a lateral move, it wasn’t. Bruce was offered an opportunity to be on the forefront of an alternative — and arguably better — way to teach America’s children.

Roosevelt High School and The Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, one of the largest public school turnaround projects in the nation, collaborated to fundamentally transform the low-performing school’s instructional and operational practices into a multi-school model.

Aimed at increasing academic achievement and reducing dropout rates, the school was divided into seven distinct academies: the School of Communications, New Media and Technology; the School of Humanities and Arts; the School of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics; the School of Medical and Health Sciences; the School of Law and Government; the School of Environmental and Social Policy; and the School of Math, Science and Technology.

Bruce would serve as the Principal of the Academy of Environmental and Social Policy (ESP).

“It was a move that I was very passionate about making for multiple reasons. I didn’t like the direction of the district I was in, and it wasn’t feeding my soul. They were following the national pattern of cookie-cutter school reform … I’m a big believer in small-school reform efforts.”

The students choose which academy they’d like to attend, and they’re encouraged to hone their interests and talents, and turn them into a High School degree. The students receive more personalized attention from teachers and benefit from an environment that fosters experimenting and learning, and challenges them to be better.

The Academy of Environmental and Social Policy concentrates on cultivating in its students an ecological understanding of the local, regional, and global environment. The coursework is demanding, and students learn how they can change our world to be cleaner and greener through the study of animals, clean technology and ecology.

“We’re trying to create committed citizens in a socially just world and in a socially just community with an environmental focus in our classrooms,” said Bruce.

While nurturing an understanding of how environmental, ecological and social systems function and interact,  it would only be fitting that the great outdoors would be considered a classroom at the school.

Students are required to actively participate in their local community through volunteerism and internships at local businesses and organizations. A robust club offering keeps the students enthused and engaged. The “Outdoor Adventure Club” offers overnight camping trips and others activities which allow students to study nature. “The Boarders Club” takes members on day trips to practice snowboarding and skateboarding. And “Roots and Shoots” (a program of the Jane Goodall Institute), allows members to volunteer at local animal shelters.

Recently, Bruce and the Academy of Environmental and Social Policy teamed up with Enrich LA, a non-profit focused on building edible gardens in schools, to create one the academy’s own gardens for its students.

Construcing a hillside garden was no easy feat, but the enthusiasm for the project kept Enrich LA, students, and all of the project’s volunteers digging and building.

Lettuce in the garden at Roosevelt ESP!

“It was a big undertaking but [Enrich LA co-founder] Tomas O’Grady really wanted to see it through, and he provided all of the funding and expertise to make it happen. We really hope that Enrich LA will provide weekly workshops for our students. They’ll learn how to grow a sustainable garden and reap the benefits of eating what they grow.”

Whether the academy’s students learn in a classroom, a garden, while peering through binoculars or looking up into the sky, cleaning up a river, sleeping in a tent, or building solar technology, they’ll each graduate High School as more responsible citizens in a world that needs them more than ever.

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