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Counting and Calculating while Practicing Conservation: Hubert H. Humphrey School, PS 57, in Staten Island, NY

2014 February 18

By Marcia Anderson

Courtyard at PS 57

Courtyard at PS 57

As part of my job with the EPA, I visit a lot of schools promoting Integrated Pest Management, environmental initiatives and sustainability. I recently had the pleasure of visiting the Hubert H. Humphrey School, PS 57, in Staten Island, NY, as part of the U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School awardees’ tour. This school has been recognized locally, regionally and nationally for innovative practices and partnerships in environmental education, energy conservation, climate change, ecological restoration, composting, recycling and gardening.

Environmental and sustainability concepts are integrated throughout the curriculum emphasizing the importance of net zero environmental impacts and the relationship between the environment and personal health.

Lunchroom recycling at PS 57

Lunchroom recycling at PS 57

Composting and recycling are important parts of student life from pre-K through 5th grade at PS 57. Approximately 30 percent of the school’s solid waste has been diverted from landfills. Gardening and composting lessons are regularly integrated into science, math, ELA, nutrition and health classes. Student Recycling Teams collect and weigh recyclables daily. Teachers use data collected by students in computer, math and literacy lessons. These efforts have kept more than 10,000 pounds of paper and milk cartons out of landfills. Their composting program enables the students to take a limited amount of approved lunch scraps, feed them into a vermi worm system and use the final compost in school and community gardens. These composting and recycling programs have won the students and staff the Sanitation Golden Apple Award, Super Recyclers, DEC Water Steward Award, and Ecology Day Awards.

PS 57’s award-winning garden

PS 57’s award-winning garden

Gardening: As participants in Grow NYC, Grow to Learn, and Green Thumb programs, PS 57 students spend six months out of the year planting and growing fruits and vegetables for their school’s cafeteria in their 7,350 square foot outdoor garden. In 2011, the students built a greenhouse in PS 57’s garden from 1,500 recycled two-liter plastic bottles with help from numerous community organizations. The students have won the Green Thumb Award, the NYC Grows Award, and the Garden Cabbage Contest four years in a row.

This school utilizes Integrated Pest Management (IPM) to identify pests which might be of concern. They have developed action thresholds for pests, perform routine cleaning, maintenance, and structural repairs to control pests, and require routine monitoring and documentation of areas of pest concern. One way that students and staff worked together to reduce the use of pesticides and maintenance costs was to use artificial turf in their high use courtyard area. Students designed the outdoor space and then landscape architects and contractors engineered the drainage and built the courtyard. Planting beds were installed for students to plant and maintain ornamental native plants. Maintenance crews do not have to mow the grass or apply pesticides, which makes maintaining the courtyard much less costly and time consuming.

The greenhouse

The greenhouse

Energy conservation: PS 57 students also participate in national programs, including Eco-Schools USA, Cool the Earth and the GSA Green Cup Challenge, through the NYC DOE Sustainability Initiative, that focus on educating students about climate change and energy conservation. The school’s Green Team consists of 40 students, including 4th and 5th graders and special education students. These students are constantly working on energy conservation themed projects. For example, the students analyzed energy readings and discovered that upgrading the school building from incandescent bulbs to LED (light-emitting diode) bulbs, would be the best way to save on energy costs. They worked with school staff to replace 104 300-watt incandescent bulbs with 12-watt LEDs in the cafeteria, auditorium, and hallways. Since 2008, the school has reduced its environmental impacts, cut its GHG emissions, and saved up to 28 percent on energy usage. The fourth grade classes and the school’s Green Team regularly conduct energy audits using kilowatts meters to record and display the amount of energy that their school uses. From the readings they are able to determine where even more energy reduction is possible.

Climate Change: In this region devastated by Hurricane Sandy, we found that the students had been actively researching and designing sea wall barriers and wave pools after studying storm surge and flood maps, since 2009. The 5th graders’ plans to build a sea wall around Staten Island’s low-lying coastal areas won them an invitation to Washington, D.C. to present their proposal to legislators who followed up by investing $500,000 into a study to address beach erosion caused by rising sea levels.

Water Quality: The teachers have also incorporated water and soil testing, plant and tree identification, macro-invertebrate and animal habitat research into the student curriculum. The students use hands-on investigation to analyze and interpret data and to solve environmental issues. This year, as part of an EPA Environmental Education grant, students are working on a 14-month project collecting water quality data from neighboring Eibs Pond.

In addition to the Green Ribbon School’s Award, PS 57 was also recognized with the Green Flag by National Wildlife Federation’s Eco-Schools USA program for exceptional achievement in conserving natural resources and integrating environmental education into the curriculum. PS 57 is the first school in New York City, and only the 10th in the country, to achieve “Green Flag” status.

About the Author: Marcia is the bed bug and vector management specialist for the Pesticides Program in Edison. She has a BS in Biology from Monmouth, second degree in Environmental Design-Landscape Architecture from Rutgers, Masters in Instruction and Curriculum from Kean, and is a PhD in Environmental Management candidate from Montclair – specializing in Integrated Pest Management and Environmental Communications. Prior to EPA, and concurrently, she has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology and Oceanography at Kean University for 14 years.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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