Green Lessons in a Concrete Jungle

By Elias Rodriguez

As a kid in NYC, my Great Outdoors was the local city park. Water rafting was an open fire hydrant. Trail blazing was crossing the F.D.R. drive highway and heading for the adjacent East River Park. The nearest wildlife was in nearby rooftop pigeon coops and the Central Park zoo. 

Urban settings pose a real challenge when attempting to foster a sense of environmental stewardship while competing with more immediate socioeconomic needs.  Nothing, however, leaves an impression upon young hearts and minds like tactile experience. When our 7th grade teacher divided us into small groups to find nearby trees in need of care, I was transformed into a little man with a mission. We descended on a nearby tiny tree choked with litter and encircled by a tattered border. Under close supervision, we cleaned up the area and repaired the border. We couldn’t tell bark from heartwood, but on that day we showered that tree with attention. The field trip took only a few hours but the lesson was a cherished one.

Our regional office is well attuned to the need to engage students and educational institutions at all levels. We recently partnered with a medical school in Ponce, Puerto Rico to nurture environmental leaders with medical expertise. We are helping Rutgers University recruit high school students to lead water conservation changes within their communities. EPA is working with NYC in support of a school located on Governor’s island, just off Manhattan’s southern tier, to provide children a holistic hands-on environmental instruction. The school is aptly named, The Urban Assembly New York Harbor School.

How does one effectively teach environmental education? A great place to gather ideas and consult with the experts is with EPA’s environmental educators. Try some pedagogical playtime. Get those kids outdoors and let them get their hands dirty! Muscle memory goes a long way when teaching Green lessons in a concrete jungle. What are some of your ideas for expanding the conversation?

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