Feature stories

Green machine

New Bronx high school gives leg up on growing field of new energy technology

Miller Photography

English teacher Brian Guilford leads a class discussion about Walter Dean Myer’s “Monster.”

Miller Photography Teacher Aldrich Crowe uses this donated model to teach students about a building’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning system. “You have to understand the concepts, electrical theory and circuits, voltage, amperage, resistance, before you are capable of working with the newer technology,” he says.
Miller Photography Biology teacher Chris Olsen discusses the subject with Jeter Gori, who is holding his school binder that contains everything from handouts to homework.

Teachers are excited, parents are thrilled, and “students can’t wait to begin building things,” said Aldrich Crowe, a teacher at the new HS for Energy and Technology in the Bronx.

Creating a school focused on careers in green engineering and sustainable building technology is an idea whose time has come.

“There’s a critical shortage of people who know how to operate, maintain and fix building operating systems,” said John Shea, the Department of Education Division of Schools Facilities CEO, who envisioned the school. He added that the demand for people with “green energy” skills will grow as a result of a 2009 city law toughening energy-efficiency requirements for renovations, mandating most facilities to undergo energy audits every 10 years, forcing buildings to update their lighting systems to more efficient technology and requiring new larger buildings to benchmark and publicly report their energy use.

Ignazio Accardi, an assistant principal in Queens and former social studies teacher, was interested in opening a new small school focused on creating a nurturing environment for students as well as a collaborative and respectful environment among teachers and administrators. When the Department of Education’s Office of New Schools got the application, they asked if he was interested in combining it with Shea’s suggestion. He was, and a new school was born, located in the borough’s Fordham section.

The UFT’s Safety and Health Department took on a supportive role. “We work closely with the DOE’s Division of School Facilities as partners with their sustainability programs and strive to promote emerging fields for our CTE students,” said Sterling Roberson, the union’s vice president for career and technical education high schools. “That’s why we’re so excited about this new school.”

All stakeholders agreed that in a tough economy, a school offering an inside track to well-paying jobs would draw many students. Indeed, before it even opened, the school had four applicants for every available slot.

The school currently has 108 students in its first 9th-grade class; at full capacity, it will have 525 students. More than 70 percent of the students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, nearly 25 percent have Individualized Education Programs, and a little under 10 percent are English language learners, Accardi says. In addition to career-oriented classes and a full, challenging academic program, internships will be available for upper-grade students.

Crowe, the school’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning teacher, is a New York City CTE graduate intent on sharing real-life experiences of people he knows in the field.

“Students are excited about the field, which has a large number of jobs and not enough people trained to do the work,” Crowe said. “These jobs pay $15–20 an hour with a high school degree, and much more with a union apprenticeship and college and an engineering degree. I have friends earning $53 an hour five years out of high school.”

Principal Accardi noted, “Parents and families love that there will be an accreditation and licensure at the end of the program and that we have partnerships that open up job possibilities.”

But that’s not the only draw, he’s quick to add — whether or not students plan on working in the field, the nurturing, small-school approach with advisory classes is also appealing to students, parents and teachers.

“I love the personalization of education in this school,” said veteran math teacher Kristin Sherlock. “I’ve been helping to build the advisory program and working with newer staff. We’re working well together and are fortunate to have an amazing bunch of students who are genuine, eager to learn and really want to help us build this school.”

Tara Winter, a special education integrated co-teacher, who follows her 12 students in their math, global studies, English and science classes, appreciates the communication between the subject teachers, guidance counselor, administration and parents for students who may need extra help — or even just to acknowledge how well a student is doing.

“There’s a lot of support for the teacher as well as the student here,” Winter said. “Being a new teacher, the expertise of my principal and more experienced teachers has been great.”

There was a strong turnout of students at the school on a Saturday in September to set up the school’s recycling program during its Green Apple Day of Service, and the students made sure everything was in place and working on Monday, Sherlock said. Sustainability — the idea that today’s society must operate in a way that does not compromise the needs of future generations — is, after all, a founding principle of the school.

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