Three NYC Eco-Schools Collaborate on Green Roof Curriculum Guide
Guest post by Amy SirotSchools interested in green roofs may soon have a valuable new tool: a green roof curriculum guide created by three NYC Eco-Schools. The guide will offer a curriculum that connects green roofs to existing NYC Education Standards, Common Core, and STEM.
An Indiegogo campaign for the guide has been launched. If the needed funds are secured, production will begin in the summer of 2014, and the guide will be relased in the fall.
The curriculum guide is the brainchild of Vicki Sando, Environmental Science Program Developer at PS41, a K-5 school in Manhattan, and the force behind the school’s 15,000 square foot Greenroof Environmental Literacy Laboratory, or GELL, completed in August 2012.“I wanted to publish a green roof curriculum guide because nothing like it currently exists,” Sando said. “There are a few green roof lessons online, but no comprehensive K-12 curriculum specifically for green roofs.”
Bringing Green Roofs Into the Classroom
Indeed, outgoing Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer published a Green Roofs report in 2010, on the heels of a symposium held at PS41, and the NYC Department of Education issued its own version at the end of 2012, with input from PS41’s team. But neither report focused on the academic opportunities inherent in these urban outdoor classrooms. Students could learn about the role of green roofs in reducing stormwater runoff, mitigating the heat island effect, and improving air quality. They could learn to grow food and compost, study weather patterns, measure rainfall, test soil quality, observe plant growth, and take a wildlife census. Extra time spent outdoors also means increased health and academic benefits.
Sando and her colleagues have already developed and implemented greenroof-focused lesson plans and have seen the benefits. The goal, she explained, is to help schools with greenroofs integrate them into their existing curriculum, and inspire other schools to install them once they see all of the ways they can enhance learning and student engagement, benefit the school facility and the environment.
“The guide will be structured so that all teachers can find a way to integrate a green roof into their instruction,” Sando added. “We will be including math, literacy, social studies, science, art, music and green building construction.”
To help with the middle and high school components of the guide, Sando turned to Eco-Schools MS 442 in Brooklyn and Bronx Design & Construction Academy, because of their successful green roof programs. Both schools enthusiastically came on board.MS442 installed its 2,200 square foot green roof urban farm in 2011, thanks to science teacher Jason James, principal Deanna Sinito and Sustainability Coordinator Corrine Contrino. Students use a weather station to collect scientific data, and study the wildlife that inhabits the roof. They also research plants that will grow in the space, based on the size of the space, the depth of the soil and the direction of the sun, then plant seedlings and replant them on the roof. Some of what they grow is incorporated into the salad bar in their cafeteria.
“Especially in urban areas, students don’t often get the opportunity to discover their gardening or farming talents,” said Contrino. “[A green roof] can also open the door to a student’s interest in architecture and urban planning.”
James has designed a curriculum around the roof and outdoor space for MS442 students. “In our school, we spent a tremendous amount of time aligning green roof projects to the common core standards; sharing this experience can speed the process for other schools, to continue to expand curriculum possibilities,” said Contrino.
Bronx Design & Construction Academy science teacher Nathaniel Wight said that his school uses its green roof as an environmental learning center.“Our Ecology class, as well as our Energy Environment Research Club, uses the green roof to discuss environmentally sustainable practices,” Wight explained. “We collaborate with Columbia University’s Green Roof Consortium to study water quality through a National Science Foundation grant. Additionally, we recently built a rainwater harvesting system, installed a solar panel, and built a model Green Roof Integrated Photovoltaic Canopy to study the mutual benefit of green roofs and solar photovoltaics.”
All three schools encourage teachers to incorporate the roof into their existing curriculum. At PS41, for example, the art department has students paint the skyline, while the science department teaches students about green roof and solar and wind technology, and about native butterflies and insects that live on the roof.
PS41 is a certified NWF Schoolyard Habitat and uses NWF’s Schoolyard Habitat resources to attract and support local wildlife.“The GELL has become a habitat for various kinds of insects and birds and students get to observe them close-up,” Sando said. “Students have a sense of ownership of the green roof and are thrilled when animal and insect “guests” come and visit.”
Content for the green roof curriculum guide will include sections about how to use a green roof for teaching, examples of curriculum and student work from the various schools, and contributions from industry professionals such as Chef Michael Anthony of Gramercy Tavern (who has worked closely with PS41) and officials from the NYC Department of Environmental Protection.. The NYC Department of Education Office of Sustainability, the Urban Green Building Council and NYC Eco-Schools are consulting on the project.
Everyone involved is hoping the new guide can have a transformative effect. “We hope that the guide will inspire many more schools to install green roofs,” said Sando.
About the author
Amy Sirot is a journalist based in Brooklyn. She has written for Environmental Defense Fund, National Public Radio, and Appalachian Mountain Club’s AMC Outdoors. She has been an Institute for Journalism and Natural Resources Fellow, and holds a Master’s Degree in Journalism from Northwestern University.