The $2.3 million campaign to put up a permanent school building for 60 sixth-graders in the Grand Rapids Public Schools will break ground in two ways next spring. Literally it will move turf for the LEED certified classroom building. Figuratively it makes history as the first public school in Grand Rapids to be paid for mostly by private funds.
The donors include $1.5 million from The Wege Foundation, $250,000 from GRPS Nutrition Services, $150,000 from the Steelcase Foundation, and $50,000 each from Bissell, Inc., and the Peter C. & Emajean Cook Foundation.
Since the 1970s, sixty GRPS students go to the Blandford School, named after the Blandford Nature Center next door, for their sixth-grade year. The expansive Nature Center is the outdoor classroom where they learn everything from botany to biology. The 60 students in two classes spend most of their time outside, including lunch, and complain when dangerously cold temperatures force them to stay indoors!
Blandford’s sixth-graders are known as BEEPS – Blandford Environmental Education Program. But they are also famous for the chicken each student gets to pick out in September and care for until school’s out in the spring. BEEPS use these chickens to practice Peter Wege’s vision of economicology by selling the eggs while protecting the environment in how they raise the hens. Economicology means balancing the economy with the ecology.
After a three year application process, Grand Rapids Public School’s City High/Middle School is the first in the area to offer a Middle Years International Baccalaureate degree. Seventh-tenth graders at City/Middle must now take, among other IB requirements, a world language – Chinese, French, or Spanish.
The IB’s rigorous, two-year curriculum is taught in over 3,000 schools – 38 in Michigan – covering 139 countries. The International Baccalaureate degree program started in 1968 in Geneva, Switzerland, with the goal of having it accepted around the globe.
City High/Middle principal Dale Hovenkamp told the Grand Rapids School Board in October 2010 that it was support from The Wege Foundation that made the IB application possible. Visionary environmentalist Peter M. Wege has always said that solving Earth’s problems must be done on a global scale. That makes this “Middle Years” IB program a natural fit.
In fact the IB’s mission statement could have come right out of Peter’s book newest book, ECONOMICOLOGY II. The IB’s stated goal is to “develop the ability to communicate with and understand people from other countries and cultures.” In his latest book, Wege writes about the need to think in global, not just national terms.
Of the many diverse goals of The Wege Foundation, the one Peter considers most important and spreads across all his good works is education. GRPS’s new International Baccaulaureate degree is a powerful way to teach students how to think beyond politics and borders.
***Pictured above – City High/Middle School students are seated in front of their 6-12th grade school listening to world renowned oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle.
Ishmael Beah, born in Sierra Leone on the west coast of Africa, was kidnapped by government troops when he was 12 and forced into their army. By age 13, government soldiers had trained him to kill or be killed by the rebel troops during a civil war that started in 1991. Beah’s family was slaughtered, his village burned, and Ismael was forced to become a boy soldier.
For two years this soft-spoken, articulate, and gentle young man fought and killed rebel troops until he was rescued by UNICEF in 1995. In 2007 Ishmael Beah told his story in a book titled, A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier. Ishmael dedicated his book “To all the children of Sierra Leone who were robbed of their childhoods.”
The Wege Foundation sponsored Beah’s trip from New York City to Grand Rapids to be the commencement speaker for City High School’s class of 2010. Beah now works with the United Nations and sits on the Human Rights Watch Children’s Rights Division Advisory, as well as other NGOs helping former child soldiers regain their humanity and restore their lives.
Beah, who has served on panels with President Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela, told the graduating seniors at Fountain Street Church that his war years taught him discipline, but not to plan for the future. Every day he thought he’d be killed, as his fellow boy soldiers were one by one. But the discipline he learned to survive helped him catch up academically for the years he missed in school.
He asked the City High seniors to realize what a privilege they’ve had to learn how to read and write. “So many people in the world want that opportunity and can’t have it.”
**Above photo – The 47 student musicians in the City High School Orchestra performed during graduation ceremonies held June 3 at Fountain Street Church. Pictured from right to left: Grant Kammer, Lauren Witvoet, Kelly Drelles, and Sarah Flinksky. Conductor Bob Ward, City High’s music teacher, is also a 30-year member of the Grand Rapids Symphony playing bass trombone. Because it’s one of the few high schools to have an orchestra, many young music students in Grand Rapids come to City High for the opportunity to play in the orchestra. City High Middle School has its own orchestra with 44 members.
You cannot save what you do not know and love. Aldo Leopold, American ecologist
The week of Earth Day April 2010 was celebrated at Grand Rapids Public Schools’ City High/Middle School when Dr. Sylvia Earle, an internationally famous oceanographer, spent a morning there. Dr. Earle held students spellbound as she called on them to save the ocean (she uses the singular because they’re all connected) before it’s too late.
Dr. Earle was named by Time Magazine as its first “Hero For the Planet”; the New York Times dubbed Earle “Her Deepness” for the 7,000 hours she’s spent underwater studying ocean life. The Library of Congress called her a “Living Legend.”
But the sixth-graders at The Center for Economicology were just as impressed that she suggested to Google founder John Hanke how he should improve Google EARTH. And Hanke listened! Dr. Earle told Hanke that since most of the Earth is ocean, he needed to create a Google Ocean. And now he has.
“How does the ocean affect us?” one sixth-grader in the Economicology class asked. “A lot,” the warm and friendly Earle answered. Every drop of water on earth is connected to the ocean. Twenty percent of the oxygen humans need for every breath comes from the ocean. “We are all part of one system,” Dr. Sylvia told them.
Having spent the equivalent of four years in work weeks under the ocean, Dr. Earle told the students to “go buy a swimming mask so you can see what’s underwater.” Dr. Earle’s message to these young people is that once they look at sea life and know what richness swims there, they will want to take care of the ocean.
Answering students’ questions, Dr. Earle told them:
No two fish faces look alike
90% of tuna are gone and tuna can’t be farm raised
Stop eating tuna in any form to prevent its extinction
Grouper is endangered because it tastes good
Half the ocean’s coral reefs are gone or are degrading
Whales and some fish can be 200 years old
800 feet underwater divers first see sparks of light
1,000 feet down the sea life sparkles like July 4th
After Dr. Earle’s visit, a City High senior girl told her teacher she had just decided what she wants to study in college. The ocean!
(Above photo – Pictured here with members of City High’s Eco Club, Dr. Sylvia Earle delivered a strong warning to all the students. If we are to preserve the ocean all life depends on, people must act now. “The next ten years are the most important in the next 10,000 years,” she told the students. ‘What we do or don’t do to bring our oceans back to life will determine our future.”)
Despite 1.9 million people squeezed together for hours in freezing weather on Inauguration Day, Tuesday, January 20, City High School senior Britany Benson said “everyone was in such good spirits…people of all ages and backgrounds, across the board—it didn’t matter. We all felt united.”
Britany and her classmate Bernard Schaefer II were part of that excited throng packed in front of the United States Capitol to watch former Senator Barack Obama place his hand on the Lincoln Bible. They needed to jump a fence to get close enough, but they heard the words that made Barack Obama the 44th President—and the first African-American.
The Wege Foundation sponsored the two high school seniors for the Inauguration, accompanied by the Foundation’s senior staff members Ellen Satterlee and Terri McCarthy. Mark VanPutten, an environmental consultant to the Foundation who lives in the Washington area, made arrangements for the four Grand Rapids visitors. Van Putten, named to one of President Obama’s environmental transition teams, rounded up tickets to the Inauguration, the Midwest Ball, and a meeting with Governor Jennifer Granholm complete with a picture of Britany and Bernard with the Michigan governor.
Besides the Inauguration itself, it was the students’ luncheon seminar with some of the nation’s leading environmentalists that had the most impact.
“Before I went to Washington,” Bernard Schaefer said, “I wanted to be a patent lawyer and maybe go to engineering school.” But after he heard national environmental figures like Jerome Ringo and Van Jones speak with such eloquence, Bernard changed his future on the spot. “They were so passionate about what they are doing.
“Now I want to be an environmental lawyer,” Bernard says with clear commitment. And not surprisingly, since his escort and friend Mark Van Putten teaches a class in that very subject at the University of Michigan, Bernard has his sights set on law school in Ann Arbor after either Michigan or Michigan State undergraduate school.
Britany Benson loves design, and she’s considering both architecture and becoming a clothes designer. But one thing for sure after her three days of Inauguration events, whatever she chooses, her career will be focused on preserving and protecting the environment.
Britany and Bernard spoke about the pride that all African-Americans, like themselves, expressed and celebrated together on Inauguration Day. Both of them knew from their grandparents the pain and suffering of racism. They fully understood the monumental significance of watching the son of a native Kenyan become the most powerful leader in the world.
They also understood how lucky they were to be part of that moment in history.
The above photo shows seniors Bernard and Britany poseing with Michigan’s Governor Jennifer Granholm at a Washington D.C. reception during Inauguration week.
To say the first economicology curriculum in town is up and running after one semester is not exactly true. Students at City High/Middle School have raced out of the gate to implement the principles of balancing the economy with the ecology. Peter Wege has advocated this philosophy since starting The Wege Foundation over 40 years ago, and he coined the term economicology to summarize it. The Wege Foundation is now sponsoring a premier Grand Rapids Public School to pioneer this environmental-financial approach to education.
And, to be precise, the first students whose classes are infused with economicology values actually jumped the starting gate before the doors opened in the fall of 2008. As school let out last spring, City High students in the Environmental Club decided they’d had enough of watching everyone’s lunch leftovers fill up trash bags. They needed to do something about it, and September was too far away.
Some of the E Club students actually followed garbage trucks and saw all their school’s food refuse end up in the dump. They recognized this as negative economicology. Pay for dumping and damage the environment. Their solution? Composting.
Over the summer they interviewed the food-service people at San Chez and the Grand Plaza Hotel knowing those restaurants both composted. They found out that environmental haulers named SPURT were the ones who did the composting. They also found out how strict SPURT’s rules are to ensure only food waste gets into the composting containers.
When school opened last fall, composting was in place at City High/Middle . No extra staff time (cost!) was needed because student volunteers did it all. Principal Dale Hovenkamp noted there was “a learning curve for a while.” Faculty and students had to learn how to sort and separate foods and dishware into the correct recycle bins.
By second semester 2009, after-lunch sorting was second nature. According to Principle Hovenkamp, the composting project has raised awareness for all the 620 seventh-through-twelfth grade students at the school on Fuller. “This is a very smart group of kids,” Hovenkamp makes clear. “They understand why we need to do these things.”
The ripple effect of this economicology transformation is already happening. East Grand Rapids High School students heard their friends from City High talking about it, and they wanted in. East students have now checked out how City’s composting program works…they plan to go therefore and do likewise at their own school.
Yet more to come at City High/Middle? A wind turbine. Boycotting the sale of bottled water. Using their compost on apple trees started in the school science labs to be planted on school property. Selling CFL (compact fluorescent Light bulbs) to save energy and raise money for more economicology projects.
No, the kids who jumped the gun last summer using economicology to make theirs a better world haven’t even made the first post around their track.
Brandie Perry from The Wege Foundation is shown with Dale Hovenkamp, principal of City High/Middle School–part of the Grand Rapids Public School System. The poster behind them represents the new economicology curriculum that started in the fall of 2008 and is being taught across the curriculum in all six grades, 7th-12th. Funded by The Wege Foundation, the curriculum is based on Peter Wege’s economicology principles that advocate a balance between the economy and the environment.
Thanks to The Wege Foundation, the Grand Rapids Public Schools are infusing Peter Wege’s concept of economicology into the curriculum. Wege coined the word economicology to define the balance needed between the economy and the ecology. The word summarizes Wege’s advocacy for educating the public on the reality that a prosperous economy depends on maintaining a healthy environment.
The first two GRPS schools that will begin teaching economicology in the fall of 2008 are the seventh graders at City High-Middle School and the sixth graders at the Southeast Academic Center. The environmental principles The Wege Foundation has promoted for forty years will be worked into all subjects for those pioneering students. Each school year a new grade will be added.
City High-Middle School Principal Dale Hovenkamp and his staff have been preparing this program for over a year. A committed environmentalist himself, Hovenkamp is excited that his school is one of the two pilots for economicology. City High-Middle School is the top performing high school in the area, the third best in the state of Michigan.
Along with introducing economicology into the schools, the GRPS is moving toward offering the International Baccalaureate Program. The IB Middle Years Programme is the most recognized pre-university educational program in the world. As its name suggests, the curriculum is based on global learning with 125 countries already participating.
Principal Dale Hovenkamp told a press conference. “The International Baccalaureate program and the Economicology program offer great potential for new and more powerful learnin. The faculty at Grand Rapids City High-Middle is eager to meet this challenge.”
ECONOMICOLOGY Enters a Global Curriculum at City High
In the 1990s, Peter Wege coined the word “economicology” to define the balance the world must find between “economics” and “ecology.” His 1998 book ECONOMICOLOGY: The Eleventh Commandment documents Peter’s philosophy that a prosperous economy requires a healthy environment. Now the premier high school in the city of Grand Rapids, Michigan, is exploring how to incorporate economicology into a new degree program called an International Baccalaureate.
Since Peter has always said that solving environmental problems has to be done on a global scale, the proposed IB degree for City High School is a natural fit. This rigorous, two-year curriculum is already being taught in over 80 countries around the world. The IB program started in 1968 in Geneva, Switzerland, with the goal of having this diploma accepted in nations around the globe.
This mission statement from the IB program could have come right out of Peter’s book ECONOMICOLOGY. The goal of the IB curriculum is to “develop the ability to communicate with and understand people from other countries and cultures.”
One of Peter’s environmental heroes was the English author and visionary H.G. Wells. In 1939, seven years before he died, Wells in fact anticipated the IB’s goal in his book, The Fate Of Man. In ECONOMICOLOGY, Peter wrote about Well’s foresight in calling on mankind to think in global, rather than national, terms. Wege’s book explained Wells’ advocacy for what the British writer called a “World Brain.”
Foreshadowing the aims of the International Baccalaureate, Wells’ World Brain would transcend political borders and educate people on what has to be done if civilization is to survive. Peter Wege shared H.G. Wells’ wisdom that only such global thinking could end wars and save civilization. Peter considers this one sentence from The Fate of Man the most important in Wells’ book:
Nonetheless, it is only through the attainment of a real world democracy that there is any hope for the ultimate survival of our species.
Thanks to Peter’s collaborative support with the Grand Rapids Public School’s City High School, the year-long application process for joining the IB program has started. Whether City High is accepted or not and just how economicology will be implemented are open questions for now. But what is clear already is how compatible Peter Wege’s global thinking and writings are with this international curriculum.