Although alternative private schools are the main focus at Alt Ed Austin, we often work with families to choose the best public school options for their kids. Cunningham Elementary in South Austin is one of the most creative and visionary of these, as you’ll learn in this heartfelt guest post from Dawn Johnson, an artist, teacher, community activist, and Cunningham PTA member. You can enjoy more of Dawn’s work by visiting her studio online.
On a recent sunny morning in south Austin, PEAS Community Farm and Urban Orchard is abuzz with activity. Children are running through the garden rows. Parents, caregivers, friends, and community organizers are weeding and planting and digging in the dirt. Crops are thriving, recently planted fruit trees are soaking up the sun, and conversations about the next set of seedlings are circling through the group. A local colony of bright green monk parakeets flies overhead, landing in the oak trees and calling to one another in parrot-song.
PEAS Farm is located at Mary Ellen Cunningham Elementary, a beautiful little gem of a school nestled in the heart of 78745. Cunningham is an AISD elementary school, and Principal Amy Lloyd, along with her active and innovative teachers and staff, are turning the old ideas of public education upside down.
Principal Lloyd emphasizes “Social Emotional Learning as the foundation in education, with peace paths, and peace areas in all classrooms, outdoor gardens, and throughout the playground! Empathy is a focus, and Cunningham will go deeper with that topic every year. Students are respected as ‘Changemakers’ for the future and are developing their lens for seeing changemakers in our society.”
Cunningham Elementary is a designated Ashoka Changemaker School, one of a select number of schools throughout the United States. Changemaker Schools are chosen based on “a global community of leading elementary, middle and high schools that prioritize empathy, teamwork, leadership, problem-solving and changemaking as student outcomes. These schools are leading a transformation in education that supports children as changemakers.”
Cunningham also worked closely with Compassionate Austin and local artist Calder Kamin to create an on-site Compassion Tree Sculpture. Cunningham’s Art Specialist engaged students in learning compassion through daily experiences, and the Compassion Tree grew with their collaboration.