Project Category: School
Model: Common Ground High School Joel Tolman, Director of Development and Community Engagement
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Phone: 203.389.4333 x1214
Leading Group(s): New Haven Ecology Project, New Haven Department of Parks and Recreation, CItySeed Farmer’s Markets

Background: US primary and secondary schools spend $6 billion a year on energy, more than on textbooks and computers combined. Energy efficiency and clean renewable energy are significant ways for schools to save money while also creating better learning environments. According to EnergizeCT, energy-efficient schools can reduce energy costs by half to two-thirds, freeing up needed resources for education. The Connecticut Green LEAF Schools program guides and recognizes schools for striving to provide effective environmental and sustainability education; to improve the health and wellness of students and staff; and to reduce environmental impacts and costs.

Project Description: Common Ground High School, located in New Haven’s West Rock State Park, has a strong commitment to environmental education both through traditional educational styles, as well as innovative, hands-on experience on the school’s urban farm campus. Students are challenged to engage the issues of environmetnal justice and stewardship in the environment of the city of New Haven. Moreover, students have the opportunity to work extensively on the farm, learning valuable urban farming techniques and the process of distributing that food. The farm’s primary purpose is to provide free lunches to all students, consisting of the farm’s locally grown produce. Additionally, Common Ground’s campus serves as a site for a farmer’s market each weekend, as well as operating a mobile farm market that travels to New Haven communities that are otherwise unable to find, much less purchase organic food. Each year, Common Ground’s urban farm produces over 35,000 servings of fresh vegetables.

Project Team

Project Planning: The New Haven Ecology Project, founded in 1990, was the leading organization in attempting to create a charter school geared towards environmental education. When the charter was first secured in 1997, the school building had not yet been created. Therefore, students and teachers met for class at nearby Southern Connecticut State University, and then walked to the site to perform environmental cleanup of the varea. This included removing invasive species and several tons of garbage to clear the way for the school to be built.

Project Resources: Twenty acres of the West Rock State Park were leased to the ecology project, which would become the site for Common Ground High School. Furthermore, the school is funded primarily through donations from student families, alumnae, corporate sponsors, and the likes. A 2-year grant for $80,000 from Newman’s Own Foundation was recently secured to help fund the school.

Project Results: Since the first graduating class in 2000, Common Ground has expanded from not just an innovative, environemtnally-minded charter high school, but to a leader in community environmental education and outreach. Over the last dozen, the summer camp at the school’s Environmental Education Center has seen participation rise dramatically, from just 35 kids in 2002 to nearly 1,000. Additionally, through its operation of Connecticut’s longest running community farm, Common Ground has had a significant impact on the availability of fresh food in urban New Haven communities.

Lessons Learned: The initial tireless efforts of the Ecology Project enabled the establishment of this innovative high school. As the school’s community programs organically expanded to support an urban farm and the accompanying educational opportunities that the farm provided, Common Ground became a prime example of what a Connecticut Green-LEAF school is intended to be. With the initial impetus for establishing the school, an urban community fully supported the educational opportunities that it offered, and thus the school and community mutually benefited.



Community Updates


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Calendar Highlights


HIGHLIGHTS OF CT’s FALL GATHERING of clean energy task forces can be found here in our Knowledge Center’s Program Archives pages. Diane Duva (the Director of Energy Demand at DEEP’s Bureau of Energy and Technology Policy is pictured here) facilitating the shaping of our state’s energy future.

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Clean Energy Communities Listening Session Letter of Thanks and Follow-up

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