Volume 76, Number 48 | April 25 - May1, 2007

A rendering of the proposed green roof for P.S. 41.

Green roof classroom idea grows at P.S. 41

By Jill Stern

P.S. 41, the Greenwich Village School, has an ambitious new plan to get onboard the green bandwagon. And they aim to start right at the top, with the roof — a green roof, that is.

Not only will the proposal — a planted oasis covering the 22,000-square-foot roof — provide a laboratory for the elementary school students to study plants and nature, but it will help keep the school cool in summer and warm in the winter. It would be the first full green roof on a New York City public school.

This Friday, P.S. 41, at W. 11th St. and Sixth Ave., will host its own Earth Day festivities. Co-hosting the event will be the National Gardening Association, which is backing the green roof plan and has selected the elementary school for its Adopt a School Garden Program. Mayor Michael Bloomberg is expected to attend, and it’s hoped he’ll voice his support — and, even better, pledge city funding — for the project.

A slew of activities for the students will be offered through corporate sponsors and local environmental groups, but the highlight of the day will be the announcement of their green roof proposal.

The school’s administration and a handful of parents, along with N.G.A., have put together a proposal they call GELL, Greenroof Environmental Literacy Laboratory, which, when completed, will be on the cutting edge of the New York City Department of Education’s green learning curriculum. Under the plan, the green roof garden will be used as a teacher-training facility for D.O.E. teachers focusing on environmental sciences, alternative energies, agriculture andnutrition.

The timing of P.S. 41’s proposal couldn’t be better. Last Sunday, on Earth Day, the mayor gave a passionate speech detailing a raft of long-term sustainability goals for the city, and more than 100 measures the city will take to achieve them.

The mayor spoke of New York City becoming a forerunner in green living and called upon New Yorkers to embrace his proposals. P.S. 41’s announcement of its green roof program is the school essentially saying: “Count us in.”

Green roofs are growing.

“There might be 100 to 150 green roofs in the city now,” said Leslie Hoffman, head of Earth Pledge, a local nonprofit organization that promotes green roofs. “That’s up from about 50 green roofs two years ago.”

As for a green roof on top of P.S. 41, Hoffman said, “The potential is unlimited. It will bring urban kids close to nature and give them a first-hand, hands-on, up-close ecological education.” She noted the example of a green roof on top of the Calhoun School, an Upper West Side private school, where students grow herbs for use in the cafeteria and peas to use in lab experiments.

Still, no public school in the city has a green roof yet.

“The School of the Future has a small, modular program in use and Bard High School has expressed interest in developing one on their building,” Hoffman noted. “Sustainability is the big idea of our time,” she stressed. “We have no other options.”

Kelly Shannon, P.S. 41’s principal, sees clear benefits in the project.

“We have put a great deal of emphasis on deepening our sciencecurriculum,” Shannon said. “We want to build on children’s natural curiosity about the world they live in. This project can help them see that all communities, regardless of where they are located, can benefit from going green.”

Vicki Sando, an active P.S. 41 parent, is credited with coming up with the idea for the roof garden project. Two years ago, she put several planters in theschool’s middle yard, which had been void of any plant life. Lois Weiswasser, then the principal, liked the idea, so the Parent Teacher Association funded thegarden expansion.

“On a whim, over a year ago, I applied for the N.G.A.’s Adopt a School Garden Program,” Sando said. A month later, she got a phone call and a visit from Rose Getch, the gardening organization’s communications director. The pair hit it off and Sando told Getch her idea about a huge rooftop garden. Getch was enthusiastic.

“We talked about all of the possibilities, which got us thinking about doing a green roof and teaching facility,” Sando said. “Kelly Shannon has been totally behind the project and, having young children herself, understands the importance of it.”

Chris Hayes, another parent, drew up sketches of the future rooftop. They met with the Region 9 science team to incorporate the new science curriculum into the program.

“In the final proposal each grade is intended to have their own separate plot, so that different grade levels will be able to use the space simultaneously,” Hayes said. “Plots will be tended by the students, teachers and parents, and summer workshops are planned for teacher training on how to use a garden to teach STEM [science, technology, math and engineering] education, as well as things like nutrition and social studies.

“There is also a conservation area,” Hayes continued, “that will serve as an example of the importance of providing for wildlife, and which hopefully will expose the students to birds that nest and insects that help sustain the environment.”

Putting a green roof on a public school also will add benefits, such as reduced cooling and heating charges.

“Green roofs work 24/7 at no cost once they’re installed,” Hayes said.

Despite the excitement over the project, no date has been set for construction of the roof. Funds still need to be raised. The gardening association has pledged financial support, there are some corporate sponsors and the P.T.A. plans to contribute funds. But the school is hoping that the city, through the Schools Construction Authority, will actively support the project. The project then would need to go through a bidding process to find a contractor to build it.

Friday’s P.S. 41 activities, which start at 9 a.m., will include a composting demonstration by the Lower East Side Ecology Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing community awareness, involvement and youth development through environmental education programs. Earth Pledge will be displaying various environmentally friendly products and alternative energy solutions. Food demonstrations will include salsa-making by Les Dames Escoffier, which will also teach the children about urban windowsill gardening, and butter-making will be presented by Organic Valley. There will also be lectures in the history and folklore of herbs and vegetables, with herb sampling.

Art activities, such as corn husk doll-making, will be run by parents. There will be a seed table where students can guess the number of seeds in fruits and guess which seeds produce which plants.

“There will be many academic opportunities for student learning,” said Shannon of the roof concept. “But the idea that what children take part in here can affect their future was very important to us.”

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