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Project 012: A Roof Grows In Harlem

For Project 012 we asked for your ideas for improving a local school. Joy Osborn, a middle school English teacher in Harlem, sent us this contribution: "I am helping to launch a new charter high school in 2009, and as I brainstorm possibilities for our new school/all schools in New York, I think that..

For Project 012 we asked for your ideas for improving a local school. Joy Osborn, a middle school English teacher in Harlem, sent us this contribution:"I am helping to launch a new charter high school in 2009, and as I brainstorm possibilities for our new school/all schools in New York, I think that one amazing program that would be beneficial to both schools and communities would be green roofs. There is an amazing organization advocating for green roofs in the Bronx already, Sustainable South Bronx, but I believe that there is nothing more positive that the New York City Department of Education could invest in than installing green roofs with gardens and sitting areas/learning spaces on the school roofs in the city. Students could learn green trades, learn about small-scale food production (skills they could then transfer to their neighborhood's community gardens), learn about chemistry, biology and ecology by studying the environment created by the plants, build economic and business skills by selling their wares, and gain some of the much-needed outdoor space in some of the city's most economically depressed areas. As an English teacher, I can only begin to imagine how great it would be to take students up to a green roof to write poetry or free write.I worked at a new school that was slated to grow to grades 6-12 that had no auditorium or gym, nor any outdoor space. The PE teacher had to take students to a public park, Crotona, that was patently unsafe, for class, or they stayed inside in a "multipurpose room" that was full of pillars against which students often bashed their heads/hands/fingers. How are students supposed to stay interested in sonnets when they can't take an hour to play soccer and blow off steam? How are they supposed to understand the importance of reusing and recycling, and sustainable living practices, when greenery is an abstract notion? When the idea that paper comes from trees seems ludicrous ("where the hell could they find that many trees, miss?") building authentic experiences with nature into the lives of students who may never leave the five boroughs is absolutely necessary to create the sort of ecologically-aware populace we'd like to see in this country in the next 50-100 years. I believe both students and teachers in New York City public schools would welcome the challenge if teachers and administrators were well-trained and give chances to customize the features incorporated into their green roofs based on their communities' needs and characters."