Putting a silver lining around one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history, four Brooklyn schools on Nov. 18 formally launched the Greenpoint Eco-Schools Project, a major conservation and recycling program.
The project, led by the National Wildlife Federation, is funded by $1.75 million from a settlement with ExxonMobil, after New York State successfully sued the petroleum giant for leaking millions of gallons of oil and contaminants into nearby Newtown Creek and the soil under Greenpoint over five decades. PS 31, PS 34, PS 110 and MS 126 each now will have a full-time “sustainability coach” to help make environmental awareness and action an intrinsic part of the life of the school.
UFT President Michael Mulgrew joined State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña and hundreds of students, teachers and environmentalists in the yard of PS 31 to showcase the Eco-Schools Project, which will teach science, technology, engineering and math using the program as a living laboratory.
“What we are doing is taking money from one of the worst environmental disasters in America to create the next generation of environmental stewards,” Schneiderman said.
Collin O’Meara, the president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, said the sustainability coaches at the four schools will work directly with students and teachers on hands-on projects “from designing green spaces and planting trees to understanding water quality issues in Newtown Creek.”
Mulgrew told the crowd he had just visited an 8th-grade classroom where excited children observed mitosis through individual microscopes on each of their desks, paid for with the settlement funds. “That’s how you bring education to the point where children will learn it and own it forever,” he said. “You give teachers that opportunity, and they will change the world.”
Amber Howes, formerly a science teacher and now the magnet coordinator at MS 126, explained that the middle school has become a magnet for environmental engineering. She described a recent project to build model truss bridges to replace the crumbling Kosciusko Bridge over Newtown Creek. Her students also have participated in an underwater engineering competition and traveled to a space camp in Atlanta.
Howes has forged a partnership with Brooklyn Technical HS to create a “STEM pipeline” from MS 126 to the specialized high school. Through the environmental program, she said, she can show her students that science is connected to their immediate community and that they could have a career in a science or technology field.
“Kids see this is real life,” Howe said. “This is engineering. It is core.”