of the Class: Lean Penniman is ready to bring high-school
to the Albany Free School.
photo: Chris Shields
Ed Grows Up
Albany Free School will offer a high-school program for the
first time this fall
Albany Free School is important to Walt Fick and his son Josh.
How important? “We are willing to drive 160 miles a day!”
For the past three years, Fick has been driving 40 miles from
his home in Tribes Hill, near Amsterdam, into Albany every
morning to drop his son off for classes at the Free School.
He makes the same round trip to pick his son up after school.
Fick is elated that he will be able to continue this routine
after Josh graduates from 8th grade this spring, because the
Albany Free School will be opening the Independent Learning
Center, which will offer students a high-school program, this
1969, the Free School, which eschews fixed curricula and compulsory
classes in favor of self-directed educational exploration,
has offered students like Josh and parents like Walt an alternative
to the restrictions of traditional schooling. Fick reports
that his son wasn’t getting the education he needed in public
school: “He was ahead of the class, and ultimately they teach
down. He was bored out of his mind. He became frustrated and
irate at doing menial tasks, and ultimately he wanted a challenge
and they weren’t up for it.” Students with learning difficulties
and those labeled with ADHD also frequently find their way
to the school.
Until now, however, the program at the Free School ended after
grade 8, and high-school-aged students were left looking for
other ways to continue an alternative education. “The only
alternative plan [after 8th grade] was home school and to
let him go to college from there,” said Fick.
are no educational alternatives for families that aren’t rich.
This is very much needed in the community,” said Leah Penniman,
who is heading up the Independent Learning Center. The Free
School charges tuition based on each family’s individual income.
Penniman said that the school has a strong contingent of students
from its surrounding neighborhood, the South End, and that
about 50 percent of Free School students are from Albany.
The other 50 percent come from myriad surrounding areas including
Averill Park, Chatham and Schenectady.
Penniman said there has been demand for a high-school program
from parents of Free School alumni for some time, and noted
that several students who had returned to public school or
switched to home schooling when they finished 8th grade will
be returning now for the high-school program. Penniman said
the program will be student-directed and be based on internships
and real-life experience. According to Penniman, students
will have the chance to mold their own education and to interact
with an array of Albany businesses and organizations that
will offer internships. “For the most part, people in Albany
are receptive and volunteer-minded,” she said.
The addition of the high school could expand the strong community
Fick says has grown up around the school. “It’s a really great,
tight-knit community,” said Fick. “Everyone knows everybody.
It’s like a family reunion when we see each other.”
Penniman said the high school currently has 16 students enrolled,
and although its original deadline has past, it is still looking
for five more. (For more details, see www.albanyilc.org.)
As for the construction of Josh’s educational plan, Fick is
fairly cautious. “He is still on the rebound from public school.
He’s still trying to learn what he wants to do and what he
can do.” However, after a moment of consideration Fick happily
added, “He has shown a great interest in making films. I told
him that would be a great idea; see if you want to do that.
I think he is going to be the next Spielberg! I have all the
confidence in the world about them producing a wonderful young
Intelligence, Meet Military Security
in Afghanistan have found a new, albeit unwilling,
supplier for their merchandise: American military
headquarters. Computer memory drives containing
sensitive military data have been popping up in
shops around in Afghanistan. Information stored
on the drives includes Social Security numbers
of American generals and lists of American soldiers
and their training. Other equipment available
includes handheld global-positioning units and
Stewart of Another Ilk
the DaVinci Academy in Utah sent out 500 invitations
announcing that John Stewart would appear at its
annual benefit dinner, it thought it had booked
the Jon Stewart of Daily Show fame. It
wasn’t expecting John A. Stewart of Chicago, a
part-time pro wrestler and former motivational
speaker. However, when a local newspaper called
the TV host’s publicist, they were informed all
he had scheduled on that day was The Daily
Show. The school has offered refunds to ticketholders.
of Lee When You Fill Up
year was a good year for Exxon and its chairman
Lee Raymond. The company recorded $36 billion
in profit, the largest annual profit any public
company has ever made. This year isn’t looking
too bad for Raymond either, as he is taking home
a $400 million retirement package, two years of
personal and home security, a car and driver,
and use of the company’s private jet. “Clearly
much of his high-level pay is due to the high
price of gas,” Sarah Anderson of the Institute
of Policy Studies told ABC News.
Breath You Take, Every Move You Make . . .
of Brooklyn will be greeted by a sight out of
Orwell’s 1984 beginning this week when
they venture to certain parts of town. Large boxes
with multiple cameras marked with the NYPD insignia
have been mounted on lamp posts 30 feet above
the sidewalks of some neighborhoods. 500 cameras
will be installed around the city at a cost of
$9 million. These cameras will join the more than
4,000 cameras already in place in New York’s subways
and housing projects.
All Just Straws in the Broom
Hudson takes to the riverbanks for the Great River Sweep
Finding strange items like a sunken barge or washing machines
from nine consecutive decades sounds like a job reserved for
anthropologists, but to volunteers working on Scenic Hudson’s
Great River Sweep, it’s all in a spring’s cleaning. From April
22 to 30, the Hudson River’s roughly 315 miles will be peppered
with 100 clean-up sites from Saratoga to Manhattan full of
this year’s crop of volunteer garbage hunters.
year, members of the Hudson’s surrounding community, as well
as some from afar, participate in this massive project, which
has gotten bigger each year. It began in 1998 when a schoolboy
wrote to Scenic Hudson. “My name is Josh,” wrote 6-year-old
Josh Taubes. “I am writing to you because I see trash floating
in the Hudson River. Is there any way you can help me?” That
year, 1,000 volunteers began a commitment to clean the Hudson.
Since then, an estimated total of 30,000 volunteers have collected
more than 300 tons of trash from the banks of the river.
With honors from organizations from Clearwater to the Environmental
Protection Agency under its belt, the Great River Sweep is
now the Hudson Valley’s largest volunteer effort. Scenic Hudson’s
staff spends months organizing the event and recruiting volunteers.
According to Andy Bicking, director of education and volunteers,
having a Web site (www.scenichudson.org) “has made things
much more efficient, but the best way to light a fire under
someone is by word of mouth. Don’t underestimate that at all.”
coordinators—whose duties are to select sites, arrange trash
disposal and recruit volunteers—are still being sought, as
are regular participants. Prizes are offered for different
tiers of commitment, chiefly based upon recruiting more volunteers
and coordinators. Bicking describes this arrangement as “not
so much a lure as it is a way to say thank you.”
Besides the support of notables such as actress and activist
Meryl Streep and Nobel laureate Toni Morrison, the event is
also backed by major business sponsors such as Clear Channel
Radio and Citizens Bank.
are many challenges the Hudson faces besides garbage. PCB
contamination in the Hudson’s riverbed, for example, is still
a huge issue. Scenic Hudson has been active with a number
of other groups in putting pressure on General Electric, which
is now under a federal mandate to eliminate the problem, largely
thanks to those efforts. Scenic Hudson is also involved year-round
in land preservation and clean-energy projects and was active
in opposing a proposed cement plant near the city of Hudson.
What sets the Great River Sweep apart from Scenic Hudson’s
other work is that it is a time when volunteers, many of whom
have become members of the group and taken a pledge to support
its environmental principles, can have a direct effect on
the health of the river. There will always be those who litter
freely. Still, according to reports from repeat volunteers,
there is less and less trash each year.
Something bad happened there.”
—CDTA Route 18 bus, in the midst of a discussion
of haunted houses.
Nader, at a press conference Tuesday supporting
Alice Green, in response to a question about how
Green could convince Mayor Jerry Jennings to participate
in a debate.
local self-published books [“DIY Books,”
Nov. 17, 2005], Saving Troy and The
Long Stair, have defied conventional wisdom
by selling enough to enter second print runs.
. . . Infuriating Mayor Gerald Jennings, the New
York State Legislature took out $322 million in
state aid that Gov. Pataki had promised the city
of Albany through 2038 from a local government
aid bill, the Times Union reported Tuesday
(March 28). Much of that money was to support
the hotel portion of Albany’s convention center
plan [“Convention Wisdom,” March 2]. The Legislature
is offering one year of extra aid, and legislators
disagreed with Jennings’ assessment that this
move would kill the convention center project.
. . . Publishing house Crown Books has donated
$100 to the Albany Public Library in memory of
the late author Rodney Whitaker, aka Trevanian
[“Assumed Identity,” May 26, 2005], confirming
his identity. A library spokesman told the Times
Union they were “delighted” with the gift