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PROJECT GREEN: Learning Trees

Project Green Park Grouppixweb

A friend informs us of children in the neighborhood who are weepy, shaking, in shock or even vomiting at the thought of taking this week’s ELA tests.

It could be that the test-taking process is tough; the buildup, the anticipation is debilitating; or they just are not prepared, and they know it.

Tests end tomorrow on Arbor Day for third-graders and up. Fortunately for 1st -and 2nd -graders, there will be no tests. And some 400 of these schoolchildren will be part of a celebration of spring, trees and planting at Von King Park’s PROJECT GREEN event and other New York City Parks & Recreation sites throughout the city.
It’s a wonder the month that finds us observing the Earth and Poetry is not also designated Children’s Month. Especially with all the blending of metaphors associated with this season: springing up, branch-growing, sapling spirit, seeding for the future.

But we also think of “mighty oaks” — which to our mind are the great — not just good — teachers and administrators. We think of Trees like our many brilliant, compassionate instructors at Nathanial Macon JHS, including Almira Coursey, June Fleary, Virginia Pope, Henry Waller, Mr. Smith, Ms. Hamill, Ms. Wilkofsky and, at P.S. 25, the hardened fear-inspiring five-foot legend with a cane, Mrs. Hayes.

We think of community educators like the late Bedford-Stuyvesant ecologist Hattie Carthan, who passed 29 years ago during April Earth Month, but whose legacy for saving trees is sustaining and copied all over the world.
Like Ms. Carthan, our teachers were not only excellent in their fields of study, they were excellent in their compassion for education and for their students. They were tireless and dauntless in small rooms with 35 or more students. They taught with valor.


Unfortunately, courage in teaching may have another meaning in these times, and it is not fair to place the weight of responsibility on today’s educator to help every child find his or her fruition and potential. There are so many variables.

However, April Arbor Day brings fresh thoughts on what can be.

For our friend who hears of student anxieties with school tests, it’s about transforming the current schools into learning centers where children can exercise their minds, expand, release, not be be fearful. “To exhale,” as she told us.

Parks allow children to run, jump, stretch and embrace the world. Gardens permit them to be pensive, thoughtful and considerate of the details of the earth. Both exercise and relax the brain and the creative impulse. Vomiting, tears, anxiety from stress – not allowed.

But there is some relief in knowing that our urban parks and gardens are the ultimate little green schoolhouses, the green learning centers or, what our friend describes as, “no test zones”.


For this Arbor Day weekend that ends a month filled with tumultuous, violent moments as well as hopeful green events, we hope all educators remind young people to take note of trees and gardens.

Within these pages, Our Time Press offers students who must take the test tomorrow, the great educators who are trying their best to usher them through it, and parents caught in limbo, a special green learning and photo-essay section.
Correction: Deborah Grant of Herbert Von King Park, who is helming tomorrow’s Project Green: Planting for the Future (Friday, April 26, 9:00a-12:00 Noon), is the coordinator of Von King’s “Green Teen” events, not the director.

NYC Schools Can Celebrate Earth Day in Countless Ways

By Emily Alix Fano
There’s no shortage of ideas for fun activities that kids, parents and teachers can do to celebrate Earth Day in New York City schools and beyond. Many of these can become permanent programs. Here are just a few ideas.

Plant Trees: The Plant for the Planet Foundation, founded four years ago by then 9-year-old Felix Finkbeiner, wants children to lead the tree-planting revolution. The group wants to plant one million trees in every country in the world and urges kids to organize planting parties. The MillionTreesNYC initiative has many education programs and tree-planting opportunities. As part of the initiative, the New York Restoration Project (NYRP) is giving away 3,000 free trees this spring to individuals and community groups across the five boroughs. NYRP’s RespecTree program helps students learn the need for trees in NYC and even lets them help pick where trees should get planted in their community. Schools can also opt to get seedlings donated by a local nursery, or order them from the National Arbor Day Foundation and plant them in a suitable spot. If planting trees is not an option, organize a school-wide collection and donate the funds to organizations like Mokugift, American Forests, or Plant for the Planet who will plant trees for you.


Host an ACE Assembly: The nonprofit Alliance for Climate Education (ACE) educates students about the science behind climate change and inspires them to do something about it. ACE presenters come to schools free of charge to deliver entertaining multimedia presentations. ACE also invites students to go online and pledge to “Do One Thing” to help the environment and cool the climate. Call ACE’s New York City office to book an assembly at (347) 218-4066.

Participate in a Waste-Free Lunch Contest: Kids Konserve Snak Pak. has compiled 21 waste-free activities for participating schools, including conducting a classroom waste audit and comparing the energy costs of reusing, recycling and throwing “away”.

Host a Communal Paper-Shredding Event: For Earth Day 2010, PS 166 in Manhattan partnered with EcoPlum and CodeShred to host a communal paper-shredding event. This was greatly appreciated by many families who – around tax season – were able to shred and recycle piles of old documents. The school also joined in and unloaded bins of old papers that had clogged storage rooms for years.

Start a School Eco Club: One of the best ways to get kids interested in environmental issues, and inspire them to work together to create positive change is to start a school environmental club. These clubs can address a wide range of issues from basic recycling and waste reduction to cleaner indoor air, gardening and energy conservation. Ideally, they’re led by a motivated teacher who acts as a mentor and can tie the club’s activities into the curriculum. Dedicated parent volunteers are always helpful and a caring principal can be key. “PS 276 has 1st-, 2nd -and 6th -grade environmental clubs for now, and all the grades will eventually be offered the chance to start their own,” says Terry Ruyter, the school’s principal. Ruyter says that environmental club members serve as recycling monitors at lunch, are in charge of battery and bottle cap recycling, and harvest compost from worm bins in five or six classrooms.
The first -and second -grade environmental clubs created a list of 100 Ways to Love the Earth which is posted in the school’s hallway and highlighted on the website. This list includes things like “unplug the TV” and “have a compost bin in the kitchen”. The art clubs and environmental clubs at PS 276 are also collaborating to create an interactive mural about how cities can be green.
The book, Green School 101, offers valuable tips about how to start a school environmental club.

Set Up Recycling Programs and Earn Cash: Aside from paper and cans, (install) collection bins for bottle caps, textiles, sneakers, used ink cartridges and eyeglasses for the blind. Recycling pays too, literally: schools can redeem cans, empty ink cartridges, cell phones, juice pouches and snack wrappers for cash!


Plan an Earth Day/Week Fair: PS 333, the Manhattan School for Children, planned a week-long Earth Fair that included a school-wide fitness event, classroom air quality and energy labs, a green cleaning information table, a weeklong waste reduction competition for grades K – 3, a Harvest Day featuring produce grown in the school’s greenhouse, screenings of educational films like What’s On Your Plate and The Story of Stuff, and daily class worksheets relevant to each day’s focus. The school has also started its own Community Supported Agriculture program, or CSA – offering high-quality, fresh produce grown locally by regional farmers to its community from June 1st through October 26th.
Schools can choose to be ambitious or pick one activity. For example, during Earth Month 6th -graders at PS 276 (read) an Earth fact every day in April over the loudspeaker. A campaign to raise awareness about plastic water bottle waste is also a great idea. School stores can be set up to sell things like stainless steel water bottles. Ask your community to purchase/bring in reusable bottles for a week or month and calculate the plastic you saved.

Help Migratory Birds: Spring is migratory bird season. Songbirds headed to boreal forests in Canada and shorebirds headed to Alaska will stop in our urban parks to rest and feed. New York’s tall buildings and reflective glass pose a collision threat to over 100 species of migratory birds. The New York City Audubon Society (NYCAS) has launched Project Safe Flight to protect them. NYCAS’s John Rowden says there are many ways schoolchildren can help migratory birds. NYCAS is working with 1st -graders at PS 276 to reduce bird collisions through the creation of artwork that will be hung in the school’s and nearby office building’s windows. Rowden says that schools can turn off their lights at night and encourage families and neighbors to do the same. Classes can take walks in neighborhood parks to do some bird-watching. Children can make birdfeeders and birdhouses to hang on trees around their schools. Donations can be collected for the Wild Bird Fund which helps injured, migratory and other birds.

Start a Composting Program: In the U.S. we shockingly waste/throw away 40% of our food supply. As Jonathan Bloom points out in his book American Wasteland, when we throw away food, we’re not only wasting resources like water and oil that are used to produce that food, but rotting food in landfills produces methane – a greenhouse gas that’s 20 times more potent than CO2 at trapping heat. Composting can teach children that food isn’t trash.
Matt Sheehan, a former 4th -grade teacher at PS 146, the Brooklyn New School (BNS), is now BNS’s volunteer Sustainability Coordinator. With $5,000 from a Golden Apple Award and a corporate grant in 2008, Sheehan organized a school-wide composting program. The system – which is managed during lunchtime – took two years to develop and has become part of the school’s culture. “There are small plastic worm bins in all kindergarten and 1st grade classrooms with eight teachers maintaining them. There are also two big worm bins outside with 30 pounds of worms in them each, and four composting tumblers,” says Sheehan. Food scraps are collected in the lunchroom.

Kids separate the food scraps into 5-gallon plastic buckets (fruits and veggies are separated from liquids and meat). The 3rd-, 4th- and 5th -grade classes work in the lunchroom on 2-week shifts to supervise the program.
Middle schoolers come down on Wednesdays and Fridays to chop up the food and put it in the bins. He says that because of the composting program and increasing consciousness among the students, he has seen a shift to less food being thrown out/wasted overall! The NYC Compost Project has designed a range of workshops on indoor and outdoor composting specifically to service New York City schools.

PROJECT GREEN is a community-based, founded and operated program that, with the help of corporate, city agencies, non-profits, national and local ecology experts and many, many skilled craftspersons and volunteers, increases “green awareness” in the community through creative, cultural, academic and social activities. The programs center around Earth Month observances.
Created by Bernice Elizabeth Green and James Durrah, Neighborhood Housing Services of Bedford-Stuyvesant in 2008, and developed with the huge support and assistance of Lemuel Mial, then manager of Herbert Von King Park, the initative has impacted thousands of children, families and individuals.
The Project brought the American Museum of Natural History, NYCHA environmental unit, Weeksville, New York City Tech, NYC green agencies, Job Corps, recognized environmental leaders and others to the table for a green knowledge-sharing discussion.
Some 3,000 elementary and middle school students have benefitted from the activities in what has been designated s the largest “green” learning space inBedford Stuyvesant. In previous years, some 8 schools have been directly involved in Project Green Earth Month and Arbor Day programs, and Von King drama and music coach Larry Banks created the first Arbor Day song,”Planting Our Future” and “The Oak Tree” for neighborhood schoolchildren. A highlight: bringing together 650 children to Von King Park’s Almira Coursey Amphitheatre to showcase their “green” projects and talents, and then all six schools joining together for a sing-along as a tree donated by Magnolia Tree Earth Center was planted, with local community leaders present. A second was the development of a community mural with art instructor Barry L. Mason involving community residents and children as artists, in partnership with a local church. A third was the presentation of lectures by New York City Tech physics professor Reginald Blake to parents and leaders of local environmental groups. A fourth was producing a Family “Green” Day, which included rappers extolling the virtues of sustainable, non-abusing rap.
The official community partners are: Von King Park Cultural Arts Center, The Hattie Carthan Community Gardens, Neighborhood Housing Services of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brownstoners of Bedford-Stuyvesant, New York City Tech.
Project Green is undergirded by tremendous community voluntarism and sustained by the great spirit and wonderful legacy of the late urban ecology pioneer, Mrs. Hattie Carthan, who saved the buildings from that protect a rare Southern Magnolia growing in Bedford-Stuyvesant. She saved the buildiings and the tree thrived. Ms. Carthan also led a community movement to plan 1500 trees on 100 blocks; developed one of the nation’s first Tree Corps programs and inspired young people to become leaders of the neighborhood’s current sustainability efforts. She past 29 years ago, this month.


Arbor Day 2013, Friday, April 26, at Von King Park marks Project Green’s milestone 6th co-presentation in partnership with New York City Parks and Recreation. This year, Deborah Grant of Von King takes the reins of the Project Green initiative which will reach 400 or more elementary school students with an array of new programs and activities. In addition to the tree planting, The Hattie Carthan Song will debut, a children’s book work-in-progress will be performed and read, for the first time, schools that have participated in Von King Park programs over the years will be honored with certificates and under gifts.

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