A partnership of environmental nonprofits launches urban ecology educational program with LIC schools

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Photo by Mark Hallum

For nearly two decades the Newtown Creek Alliance has served as the voice of the estuary along the Queens and Brooklyn border that is one of the most polluted waterways in the nation.

Now, in a partnership with the Hunters Point Parks Conservancy, the two nonprofit organizations will turn Newtown Creek into a classroom for urban ecology with educational programs for Long Island City schools.

“We are very excited to be able to expand our educational programming and help foster the knowledge, awareness and stewardship that will continue to drive positive change for Newtown Creek in the coming years,” Newtown Creek Alliance Executive Director Willis Elkins said. “We are thankful to the funders and project partners for investing in our shared vision of a waterway that serves as a positive resource for those working, living and learning near the creek.”

The curriculum is designed for elementary and middle school students to “bring the creek into the classroom and the classroom out to the creek,” originally with four units: flora and fauna; water quality; soil quality; and watershed and sewershed. The programs also have a strong emphasis on field lessons and place-based education.

“The Conservancy is thrilled to partner with the Newtown Creek Alliance and Long Island City schools on this important project,” Hunters Point Conservancy President Rob Basch said. “Part of our mission is to educate the community about environmental concerns on the Hunters Point waterfront and this program will help to achieve these goals.”

Starting this fall, teachers at Hunters Point Community Middle School and P.S./I.S. 78 will be the first schools in Queens to integrate the Newtown Creek Urban Ecology STEM curriculum into their classrooms. Four teachers at each school, from various grades and subjects, will play an active role in the program.

“Hunters Point Community Middle School has been committed to engaging students in real world learning since it opened in 2013 along the banks of the East River and Newtown Creek,” Hunters Point Community Middle School Founding Principal Sarah Goodman said. “We are thrilled to partner with the Newtown Creek Alliance and the Hunters Point Parks Conservancy to develop the skills and stewardship of the next generation of leaders.”

Students from Long Island City schools will learn to be future stewards of Newtown Creek (photo courtesy of NCA)

The schools were chosen due to their proximity to the creek and the teachers volunteered to be trained on the curriculum and integrate it into their school year. This expansion to these schools has been made possible through funding from the NYC Environmental Fund and the NYS Department of Conservation.

“The state Department of Environmental Conservation is committed to fostering community stewardship of New York City’s waterways, shorelines, parklands and open spaces through funding programs like the NYC Environmental Fund,” DEC Regional Director Steve Zahn said. “This local environmental education and stewardship project will help strengthen community awareness and understanding of Newtown Creek and bolster activities to improve its health.”

As a part of the project, HPPC received funding from TF Cornerstone to work with NCA on the creation of two units within the curriculum: climate change adaption and history and geography of Newtown Creek and its surroundings.

“We are encouraged to know that students will walk away from this project with a commitment to urban ecology and an understanding of the value it brings to environmental sustainability,” TF Cornerstone VP of Corporate Social Responsibility Ebony Young said.”Thank you HPPC and NCA for making our world a better place to be.”