As if baseball, soccer and “life” weren’t enough, Greenpoint schoolkids are about to meet their new “sustainability coach.”
On the evening of February 5, at Nassau Avenue’s vegan-friendly Cafe Edna, a collection of Greenpoint’s greenest folks gathered to celebrate the launch of the Greenpoint Eco-Schools Project.
North Brooklyn’s Assemblyman Joseph Lentol led the proceedings, heralding the program as an important step forward in remediating the environmental abuse that haunts Greenpoint’s recent history. “I can see no better way of generating a new era of environmental activists and preservationists that will work to better our community even more in the future,” he said.
The $1.4 million dollar project is funded in by New York State’s 2011 $19.5 million dollar settlement with Exxon Mobil, the company responsible for the Newtown Creek oil spill. According to the Greenpoint Environmental Fund, the organization tasked with distributing the settlement money to worthy, local environmental endeavours, it’s an attempt to “implement a comprehensive environmental education program” in four of Greenpoint’s public schools.
The six selected projects, chosen by the local community, were announced through the Attorney General’s office back in December. Sheri Sankner, a science teacher at Greenpoint’s P.S 31 Samuel L. Dupont, says the project will kick into full swing when a “sustainability coach” for the school has been hired.
The National Wildlife Federation will lead the Eco-Schools project and is looking to staff four of these full-time positions, one at each participating school. Emily Fano, the NWF’s New York City Outreach Manager, explained that the Sustainability Coach will work directly with a school’s students, parents and teachers to address environmental issues such as the way schools deal with waste like paper and food and their ability to conserve water and use energy efficiently.
With guidance from the sustainability coaches, the schools will use the funding to upgrade any equipment that would influence these sustainability issues, such as the boilers, the lighting and the waste collection facilities. Fano said the students will do hands-on research, like auditing the air quality in their school. Then they’ll take it a step further by creating an action plan to improve the air quality based on their findings.
Another central aspect of the project: the development of school “green space,” which is an area of the schoolyard that can act as an outdoor classroom for the young students. “It’s about connecting kids with nature,” Fano said.
“They’ll definitely be getting their hands dirty,” says Sankner. She expects the green space to act as a kind of sustainability laboratory for her students. They learn by planting and cultivating that the plants and by supporting the wildlife the garden attracts. Although some of the schools already have schoolyard gardens set up, for others the added educative task will be finding a plot that’s suitable. Using raised bed planters, the students will need to find a part of the school that provides the “four essential habitat elements,” Fano explained. These are “food, shelter, water and a place to raise young.”
The hands-on nature of the project reflects the on-going STEM (science, technology, engineering and math education) project in schools. STEM encourages children to develop skills that are in demand by our modern, technologized workforce while ensuring their minds are attuned to the risks of corporate environmental abuse. The search for her school’s sustainability coach is ongoing, Sankner said.
Correction: The original version of this post was revised to correct the amount of funding for the Greenpoint Eco-Schools Project. It is a $1.4 million project.