‘Money for parks, not walls’: Queens high school students protest government shutdown at Jamaica Bay Refuge

MELS Jamaica Bay Protest_01
Photo by Carlotta Mohamed/QNS

About 120 ninth-grade students from Metropolitan Expeditionary Learning School in Forest Hills, rallied at the shuttered Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge Visitors Center on Thursday in an effort to raise awareness on how the ongoing federal government shutdown is impacting their education, school and communities as a whole.   

Students presented their solutions to environmental issues on Jan. 17 and advocated for the opening of the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge Visitors Center — located at 175-10 Cross Bay Blvd. — where they’re unable to complete their fieldwork investigations, due to the government shutdown.

The students acknowledged the hardworking rangers at the refuge — and other national parks — who aren’t being paid, saying, “They’ve done so much for the bay such as cleaning it up, and making sure people have a good time.” 

Together they chanted, “Don’t shut down my education…whose parks…our parks!” as they concluded with their final message: “Speak your mind, reach out, make your voice heard, after all power comes with unity.”

Each year, ninth-grade students in Living Environment class work with the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, which is part of the National Parks System, to study ecological systems and human impact in a real-world setting. At the conclusion of every semester, students present their findings at the Visitors Center as part of their final presentation of learning.

“The Jamaica Wildlife Refuge has given us opportunities, new learning, and a chance to express our carefully chosen ideas,” said Hannah Clarke. “Jamaica Bay and its rangers provided our schools with text and other material that we were able to focus our learning on. We must act out to protect our beautiful environment, our people, and our students. Though the government is shut down, our voices will not be shut down as well.”

Dubbed “A School for a Sustainable City,” MELS — located at 91-30 Metropolitan Ave. — serves approximately 840 students in grades six through 12. The school offers its students a rigorous college preparatory program, with particular emphasis on science, technology and sustainability. 

Students touched on the issues of plastic pollution, combined sewage overflow and the importance of recycling.

Sarah Perez, 14, was one of 30 students selected to present her project,  a combined section garbage can to make recycling easier for people at home, to prevent plastic from building up on sidewalks and in the waterways.

Ninth-grader Sarah Perez

“We got our research here to create our project,” said Perez. “I was really excited about it, but when I got the news of the government shutdown it made me really sad. I really do hope [the Refuge] opens again because it’s a really nice park, but with the way the government is going, I’m not sure it’ll open anytime soon.”

Naadia Mohamed, 14, said she hopes their rally made a change today and the center reopens. 

Ninth-grader Naadia Mohamed

“We came here to present our solution to environmental problems and we’ve been developing it for three months now, it’s a shame that we didn’t get to present our solution today,” said Mohamed. “I hope that because of our rally, it will open and will have an effect on their decision.”