Students at P.S. 32 in Flushing know the importance of doing good for the environment thanks to the Activate Our Garden program, an award-winning organization started by PTA co-president Wing Kong.
Four years ago, Kong shared the program with the school community based on her own love of gardening and the environment. She noticed that the school’s campus had a “decent amount of land” for planting and an outdoor classroom.
She chose daffodil planting as the program’s first school-wide program and included lessons on basic planting skills and daffodil hibernation in the winter. Kong also tied in a lesson on the events of Sept. 11, which she felt school-aged children should learn about.
“A lot of kids [that age] don’t know about it. We all live in New York City, so they should know about it,” said Kong, who added that like the daffodils, we as people continue to bloom and grow every year following 9/11.
Recently, Kong invited Assemblyman Ed Braunstein and District 25 Superintendent Danielle DiMango to the soft opening of their Ocean Plastic Awareness project, which educated staff, students and their families to reduce the use of plastic and how it impacts the oceans.
Through the Ocean Plastic program, Kong and the P.S. 32 community did not purchase any plastic bags this school year and instead opted for reusable or compostable alternatives. She also encourages students and their families to collect hard-to-recycle items, like juice pouches, chip bags and markers for special recycling programs like TerraCycle and Crayola ColorCycle.
The Activate Our Gardens Program also created a mural called “When the mermaid cries” made out of repurposed, donated and found items. Kong said that students and staff collected everyday items like old remote controls, keyboards and watch faces to create their upcycled creation.
She added that reusing old items is just one way for the community to rethink the way it interacts with the environment.
“Reduce, reuse, recycle are the typical ‘three Rs,’ but just recycling isn’t the solution anymore. We have to rethink from a manufacturing and a consumer point of view,” Kong said.
She added that one way people can rethink their consumer habits is to buy in bulk to reduce the amount of garbage produced.
The New York Department of Sanitation (DSNY) awarded the program three Zero Waste School awards, which rewards public schools for “outstanding programs in recycling, sustainability, reuse, gardening or cleanup.”
P.S. 32 received the MFTA Reduce & Reuse Challenge award for the most creative reuse project, the CCNYC Team Up to Clean Up award for the best beautification and clean up project and the DSNY Commissioners Cup, which awards the best sustainability efforts across all DOE schools.
“We are very proud to be the winner of three awards and we are proud to be a Queens school that promotes nature-based programs and sustainability programs,” Kong said.
Kong hopes to expand the Activate Our Garden program to the entire student body and often collaborates with groups like the P.S. 32 student council. She said that fellow parents come up to her and share that their kids are making environmentally friendly choices in their own homes.
“All changes make a big impact. Once I inspire a person, it starts to spread,” Kong said.