BACK TO SCHOOL
A special Villager supplement
The scene is green this year at two Village schools
By Shino Tanikawa
So the summer if we can call what we had summer has come and gone once again and it is time to hit Staples for that annual ritual. This year, however, parents from some schools will be given a slightly different supply list: a green back-to-school supply list.
Great parents evidently think alike. The Green Committee of P.S. 3 met in early June this year to discuss development of such a list. Luckily, members of the Green Committee did not have to do the work. Pamela French, a parent from the Anderson School on the Upper West Side, put a list together and made it available to anyone interested on a Web site called Green Schools NYC (http://greenschoolsnyc.ning.com/). The list starts with characteristics of eco-friendly products, including the use of recycled, nontoxic materials from local sources. To make shopping simple, the green-supplies list gives parents the brand and product names. Beyond the classroom staples, such as notebooks and pencils, the list also includes cleaning supplies that are not only good for the classrooms but also for homes.
Even though the environmental challenges of today are often overwhelming, environmentalists have much to rejoice about these days. An awareness of environmental issues, particularly climate change, appears to have finally become firmly planted in the consciousness of the general public. More and more schools are engaging in green activities every day. The Web site Green Schools NYC is part of a larger alliance, Green Schools Alliance (http://www.greenschoolsalliance.org), which is an alliance of K-to-12 public, private and independent schools uniting to take action on climate change and the environment. The Green Schools NYC Web site was created by Jennifer Freeman, a very involved parent in School District 3 (Upper West Side), for exchanging ideas on increasing sustainability in New York City schools.
The schools in the Village are doing their part to improve the environment. While recycling is mandatory, many schools are still not separating their waste. Often it takes dedicated teachers and parents to get a recycling program started in a school. P.S. 3, at Hudson and Grove Sts., is starting its third year of paper recycling, which was initiated by an upper-grade class. Students from the class reached out to the other classes to teach them how to recycle and set up the collection bins. They are also responsible for monitoring what ends up in the large, hallway recycling bins. The school is hoping to expand the recycling program to begin collecting plastic beverage bottles.
Parents from both P.S. 3 and P.S. 41, on W. 11th St., are also involved in a citywide group called Parents Against Styrofoam. Every day, the Department of Education serves more than 800,000 lunches on Styrofoam trays that end up in landfills. Members of this anti-styrofoam group researched less-environmentally damaging alternatives. (An edible tray was even thrown into the mix at one point!) The group has been pushing the Department of Education to switch to biodegradable trays. Because of parental activism, SchoolFood (the office responsible for meals in New York City public schools) has made a commitment to testing a paper bowl this fall.
Food is a theme that seems to excite and bring together many people. Fourth and fifth graders at P.S. 3 start the year off with Days of Taste, a program of the American Institute of Wine and Food. At the programs core is teaching students the value of good, fresh, local food. Chefs from various restaurants come to the school to teach students about culinary science the children get to taste chocolate of various types! Classes are then invited to dine at their restaurants. To many students, this is their introduction to where food comes from, i.e. not the supermarket.
P.S. 41s gardening program teaches gardening skills and hands-on botany, starting with pre-kindergarten students. As students move up, they learn farm-to-table education. The schools partnership with Organic Valley brings the farm into the classroom, and students have learned how to make butter and ice cream. P.S. 41 also partners with local restaurants, such as Gramercy Tavern, to teacher students about cooking with a variety of ingredients.
This fall, the two Greenwich Village schools are planning a joint fundraiser, Taste of the Village, on Sept. 20. The event will feature local restaurants, performing artists and educational programs focused on nutrition and the environment. P.S. 3s Green Committee also has a plan to host an educational event in spring 2010 for the school community focused on local seasonal cooking. Potential ideas being discussed are a farmers market at the school and serving school lunch made from local seasonal ingredients.
Among other exciting green projects in the Village schools are the Climate Change Quilt Project and the Green-roof Environmental Literacy Laboratory. P.S. 3 has expressed its interest in participating in the Climate Change Quilt Project headed by Sharon Lowe, an activist from Australia. Lowe is planning to deliver the quilt, made of pieces by students from all over the world, to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December. Regardless of whether P.S. 3 will be selected to participate, the school community will hold a Climate Change Assembly during Climate Week NYC (Sept. 20-26).
The Green-roof Environmental Literacy Laboratory (GELL) at P.S. 41 is one step closer to reality with grants from Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. The grants boosted the projects budget to $1.3 million for construction, which is slated to begin in spring 2010.
It would be an even better start of the school year if the citys education capital plan were full of wonderful projects like green roofs or more new schools. While the Green School in Battery Park City is a step in the right direction, both in terms of lessening the human impact on the environment and creating more school seats, it is far from enough on both fronts. Overcrowding continues to be a serious issue in Greenwich Village, as well as in Tribeca and Chelsea. A new home for Greenwich Village Middle School is yet to be found, while 75 Morton St. an ideal site sits half-vacant. Potential buildings, often identified by parents, are rejected by the Department of Education, with asbestos or wooden floors cited as the reasons, even while plenty of schools, including P.S. 3, occupy buildings that were built decades before the current building codes existed. If the Department of Education finds existing buildings to be not suitable for schools, then it simply must build more schools and lets go for LEED Platinum while we are at it.
The good news on this front is that the City Council is serious about reforming the Blue Book, the enrollment and school-utilization report on which the capital plan is based. The new Blue Book will hopefully reflect the reality of the overcrowding more accurately.
Despite the overcrowded learning environment so far removed from nature, it is reassuring to know that students in these Village schools are learning what it means to be environmentally responsible citizens. It speaks volumes to the kind of school communities and communities at large we have in the Village.
Tanikawa is a parent at P.S. 3 and Clinton School for Writers and Artists and a member of Public School Political Action Committee.