How do you break the cycle of poverty in underserved communities? The answer is more complex than some realize. Poverty is not always about the lack of income but often about the lack of access and opportunities. The families who are living in underserved communities have been historically underrepresented. Their battle of poverty is not only socio-economic, but it has become a mindset from one generation to the next. To escape poverty and the mindset that is associated with it, one must decode the “Matrix”. Now, you may be wondering, what is the Matrix? The Matrix is an environment in which something is developed. So when you think about those children, who live in a poverty-environment—children, whose communities are underserved—children, who are living in undereducated environments—those children’s lives develop in their Matrix. And once those children become adults, and start having children of their own, those babies’ lives will develop in their Matrix.
The question is, how can their matrix be decoded? The truth of the matter is, it has to be through education. A new and innovative charter school in Fresno California aims to provide a different norm for students. The Golden Charter Academy (GCA), School of Environmental Stewardship, and its founding partner Fresno Chaffee Zoo will work together to provide a world-class educational opportunity for all students, especially the underrepresented and socioeconomically disadvantaged.
Henry Ford, the founder of the Ford Motor Company once said, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you'll always get what you’ve always got.”
The reality is, the public school systems in underserved communities have done just that. The approach to education in the Matrix has not been positive in breaking the cycle, but yet the approach has been the same for decades. The role of schools is to educate. If the environment the student is brought up in does not reflect the importance of education, the importance of education does not resonate within the whole child. I, Robert Golden, know this to be true because I was once in the shoes of children who currently face the challenge of being trapped in the Matrix. My vision for the Golden Charter Academy is to give our students an educational experience that will make them lifelong learners and expose them to more life outside of their matrix.
What makes Golden Charter Academy uniquely different from every school around the nation, is its innovative approach to education. GCA will utilize Place-Based Education (PBE), Universal Design for Learning (UDL), Environmental Education (EE), and Environmental Literacy (EL) to prepare our students for future success. The philosophy behind place-based education allows for children to learn anywhere and anyplace. This gives children the opportunity to have a hands-on, real-world learning experience in their local communities, and the natural environments. Place-Based Education allows for the Fresno Chaffee Zoo to be a classroom without walls for the Golden Charter Academy students. Students at GCA will be able to experience conservation in real-time on zoo grounds. By personally experiencing the value of a subject, a deeper understanding emerges for students according to Schwartz 2012 P.2.
Complementing place-based education with the framework of Universal Design for Learning will give students at Golden Charter Academy flexibility on how they “Access” material. UDL was designed to break down all barriers to learning and allow every student to demonstrate what they've learned using their strengths. The goal for UDL is to use a variety of teaching methods and give every student equal opportunities to succeed.
The academic pathway at Golden Charter Academy is through Environmental Education. EE is a process that allows individuals to explore environmental issues, engage in problem-solving and take action to improve the environment. It gives individuals the opportunity to have a hands-on learning experience. Environmental Literacy is the skills and knowledge needed to make informed decisions regarding the complex relationship between people and natural systems. Because of our partnership with the Fresno Chaffee Zoo, the Golden Charter Academy is uniquely positioned to provide students with engaging, place-based environmental experiences in conjunction with the Zoo’s Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) aligned curriculum.
Golden Charter Academy has adopted three core pillars that will allow students to succeed in education, but more importantly, in life. Stewardship, Equity, and Access. Stewardship refers to the deep understanding of the interconnection of all life and the importance of conserving and managing the earth’s natural resources as well as the care for community and place. Equity focuses on the Golden Charter Academy's purposeful commitment to elevating the cultural and societal contributions of all people, especially historically underrepresented and underserved communities. Access is the Golden Charter Academy’s commitment to creating pathways to success for all learners, through innovative lesson design and instructional practices that develop their expertise. To go along with our three pillars, our central mission at Golden Charter Academy is to Inspire Powerful Young Minds. Curiosity, exploration, and discovery are the hallmarks of our educational program and the tools we will use to equip our students for academic and life readiness.
Golden Charter Academy is committed to providing all children a world-class, life-changing education. We will create a learning and growing environment that will develop our students into poised, confident, and articulate leaders. Although the Golden Charter Academy approach to education may look different than any other school around the nation; you have to keep in mind, to decode the matrix, one must do something different than what is being done in the environment. Welcome to the new paradigm of education.
Robert Golden is the Chief Executive Officer/Head of School for the Golden Charter Academy