Nearly four years later, as the Eco-Schools initiative winds down, both advocates and educators say the program has been a success.
“We’ve really striven to connect them to their local environment,” said Emily Fano, senior education manager with the National Wildlife Federation, “and to help them understand the place where they live, to know there is nature all around them.”
The $1.75 million grant was funded by settlement money from the Exxon oil spill in Newtown Creek. The total investment in the program, including $250,000 from the Newtown Creek Fund in 2017, came out to close to $3 million.
The program, which established programs at PS 31, PS 34, PS 110 and MS 126, brought in four coaches who worked with the schools to incorporate sustainability into their curriculum.
The schools have also collectively diverted more than 400,000 pounds of waste from landfills, built or expanded school gardens, installed water conservation measures and more.
Fano said program not only trained teachers to teach differently by using their neighborhood as a classroom, but also connected the schools to resources and partners in their communities.
Jacqueline Tesoriero, greenhouse classroom teacher at PS 31, said Eco-Schools has changed young minds to get them to think about sustainability at an early age.
“I really think that the children have come out with a new way of thinking about sustainability,” she said. “Even though they’re young, their choices now will make a difference in the future.”
At PS 31, the funds helped the school create a new STEAM Wing, which includes their greenhouse classroom and technology room.
Other green projects include the renovation of their Garden of Happiness, sensory beds, and the soon-to-be-complete outdoor green classroom in the schoolyard.
Tesoriero noted that many students have already begun talking about careers in the environmental sector, and how their actions affect the future.
“It’s already becoming a habit of theirs to think about it, and make choices that are healthy for the earth,” she said.
Although the program is coming to a close at the end of the school year, Tesoriero said PS 31 will carry on with everything they’ve learned from Eco-Schools.
Tesoriero and Sheri Sankner, another green teacher, will be the new sustainability coaches. The school’s Green Team will continue, as will the Green Wellness PTA, a subgroup of the larger PTA.
They will be tasked with continuing all of the school’s sustainability projects into the future.
“This will not stop,” Tesoriero said. “It’s going to continue way after they leave.”
Fano added that NWF will “always be here” to support the four Greenpoint schools as a resource and for advice.
“We will not just walk away and leave,” she said. “We will always be here to support them.”
Last Wednesday at PS 31, to celebrate the end of the program NWF teamed up with the Wild Bird Fund, the city’s only licensed wildlife rehabilitation facility, to conduct a presentation about local birds for the students.
The organization also visited PS 110 and PS 34 in the past week. On Friday, they will visit MS 126 as well.
Educators not only identified many wild birds that live in New York City, but also discussed the challenges they face from humans and how the students can become better wildlife stewards.
Fano said these assemblies help students understand that there is a rich diversity of wildlife in the city. They also learn the skills of observation, the potential harms of their actions and how to care for living things.
“We really need that, not only in Greenpoint, but on the earth right now,” she said.
Michelle Ashkin, co-director of education at the Wild Bird Fund, said their program goes into classrooms, sometimes for as long as one school year, to teach kids about bird biology.
Other schools visit their clinic on the Upper West Side and see all of their patients.
Assemblies like the one hosted at PS 31 can reach larger audiences of children, Ashkin said, and are still hands-on.
“What we find is that the kids are mesmerized,” she said. “They are completely engaged.”
The students start to “develop a true appreciation” for the animals and see them as what they are: sentient beings.
“They have more of an appreciation of wildlife in general and really connect to it,” Ashkin said. “They want to be empowered to make differences in the world.”