Nick Lanza has The Island School pumping through his veins. Eleuthera and his time on the Cape are part of who he is and where he’s going. With an undergraduate degree in environmental studies and adventure education followed by two years of teaching marine ecology at The Island School and two years as a Corps Member of Teach For America, Nick is passionate about improving education.
After attending IS in Spring 2010, Nick chose to further his love of experiential education at Prescott College. As a self described “waterbug,” the mountains and deserts of Arizona’s environment were outside his comfort zone. The desire to push himself and adapt to a new environment and community was cultivated during his semester as a student on Eleuthera. Ocean exploration was replaced with rock climbing in canyons; surfing replaced with mountain biking. At the end of each year at Prescott, Nick packed up his binders of work and flew straight to Eleuthera to teach Summer Term. He learned how to teach within an experiential education framework and directly applied his academic experiences to designing and building the Summer Term curriculum. The natural transition from Summer Term to teaching marine ecology during the semester programs gave Nick the room to produce original curricular content that took students underwater and taught them far more than fish identification.
With an itch to step outside his comfort zone again, Nick applied to Teach for America. Selected out of 48,000 applicants, he was placed in New York City’s public school system. Nick is now in his second year of teaching at Democracy Prep, a network charter school. Democracy Prep is a nationwide network of free open-enrollment college preparatory schools located in under resourced communities across America. When asked if there were any similarities between Democracy Prep and The Island School, Nick said, “the only thing that is similar is that the school happens to be in Manhattan, which happens to also be an island.” It has been a challenging and rewarding transition from Hawaiian shirts and flip flops to business attire; teaching class while on a boat to rows of perfectly spaced desks; and from a group of many students with seemingly endless opportunity to a place where students work tirelessly to reach a similar educational starting line as their privileged counterparts.
Democracy Prep is vastly different than The Island School. The structure of the school strives to bridge the achievement gap by maximizing classroom time. With the majority of the student body falling victim to institutionalized racism within school districts, Nick and his colleagues are helping their students open doors for themselves. The juxtaposition of Democracy Prep with The Island School has fueled Nick’s passion for education while also pushing himself in exactly the way he wanted when leaving his comfort zone of Eleuthera.
Nearing the end of his TFA two-year tenure, Nick remains committed to working towards equity in education. Throughout his career he hopes to work with other leaders to infuse the transformational experiences from schools like The Island School and Prescott College into underprivileged educational communities like Democracy Prep. Nick dreams of working towards equity by meeting baselines but also by enhancing learning through a focus on place-based education that stems from and creates stewardship in local communities. In the fall, he will transition to School in the Square, an independent charter school in Washington Heights, New York. With inspiring enthusiasm, an engrained love of learning, and a drive to level the education playing field, Nick will no doubt create leaders affecting change in every classroom he steps foot in.