Bringing learning to life

Saturday, March 28, 2009


Special to the Times

TRENTON -- When Lisa Kasabach takes a drive through Trenton, she sees more than buildings and landmarks. She sees teaching opportunities.

"Trenton has a rich history and an abundance of cultural resources that can be used to bring out the best in children, the community and our world," said the Trenton resident.

"There is a great deal of value right here in the city, and wonderful assets and resources for learning and teaching."

Kasabach and a group of like-minded people are creating the River City Community School that will use Trenton as a classroom. The school is currently enrolling students for the fall, and plans to teach children in grades K-5 in a different way. It's mission is captured in the school motto: "Bringing Learning to Life."

The idea for the school grew out of the idea that the community needed a new elementary school option for parents living and working in Trenton. A group of parents, educators and community activists who saw Trenton's rich and varied assets as an underutilized resource for educating children began working on the concept for the school as an outgrowth of CitySmiles, an established organization dedicated to promoting positive urban family, community and environmental living in Trenton.

"This is a way to enhance learning in the classroom," said Kasabach, a former Trenton Board of Education member and director of Isles Environmental Education and Community Gardening program.

Kasabach says that the independent school will use the Turning Point Methodist Church at 15 S. Broad St., Trenton, as a home base for the 30 to 35 students they hope to enroll. The school, which will charge tuition of $10,000 per pupil with a 10 percent discount for siblings and offer support scholarships, will visit landmarks like The Old Barracks Museum in Downtown Trenton as part of its daily lesson plan.

"We are starting small, because we want to be successful and set a good foundation," she said, adding that she is hoping to keep the classrooms level at 10-15 students per class. "The goal is to expand the program through 8th grade."

Besides the Old Barracks Museum, Kasabach is outlining plans to use the New Jersey State Museum and the banks of the river as a backdrop for learning.

Teachers can incorporate lessons of science, math, and art all in the setting of the river, she said.

"Maybe a student that excels in math can figure our how deep the river is or how fast it flows. We can set up easels by the river banks and encourage students that are strong in art to create a painting of the river," she said, adding that this interdisciplinary approach to school is generally utilized in urban areas.

"In areas where this works, like Philadelphia and New York, there are rich resources at your fingertips," she explained. "It's pretty exciting to use city resources, and what we want to do is take advantage of it and enhance beyond the school day, and spark an interest in learning beyond the school day. A huge part of it is community partners supporting us, as it does take a village to raise a child."

Others involved in the school's start-up include Kietha Biggers, Melissa Brand, Peter Kasabach, Edna Margolin, and Cynthia Vandenberg.

For more information on the school, call (609) 394.8018, or look online at