Teachers Give and Take Sustainability Lessons

April 3, 2012 Updated: April 3, 2012
Epoch Times Photo
Teachers test the Ph level of the aquaponics system in the greenhouse classroom at PS333 in Manhattan before their Waste Water and Energy training on Monday. (Amal Chen/The Epoch Times)

NEW YORK—Capping six weeks of hands-on sustainability education, the 13 New York City teachers attending the Waste Water and Energy training program turned in their final exams on Monday night.

The course, offered by the Department of Education as a part of the After School Professional Development and created by New York Sun Works, not only educates teachers about sustainability, but teaches how to apply what they learned using fun and innovative methods in their own classrooms.

Shakira Castronovo, a science teacher at PS333, taught the course from the greenhouse she uses as a classroom every day.

“I really wanted this class to be useful so part of it should be learning new information, and part of it should be applying it,” she said before the training began on Monday evening. “They had to be thinking each time how something we did here could actually be used in their classrooms.”

Epoch Times Photo
Gerard McGrath shows what his students made based on the Waste Water and Energy training they received. (Amal Chen/The Epoch Times)

Teacher Tyler Sanders, who teaches science to first through fourth grades at Promise Academy II in Harlem, took the class last minute. He has already applied what he learned in his classrooms.

Sanders had purchased worm bins for his students, but they were not getting much use.

“It had really been this thing in the room that we looked at maybe once a year and threw food in once a week,” he said before the training.

In the sustainability training, Sanders learned composting with worm bins could decrease waste, so he incorporated that into his lesson plan where his kids built their own worm bins.

Just like he did in the sustainability class, Sander had his students toss uneaten items from their lunches in the bins, along with pencils, crayons, paperclips, and a piece of school uniform to teach them what the worms eat and what happens to things that are thrown away.

“The kids now have this whole newfound appreciation for what worms do and how they are part of the whole life cycle. To hear a first-grader use the word ‘decomposer’ is kind of awesome,” Sanders said with a smile.

Trainee Colleen Jaffe teaches sixth-graders with autism at P4 Skillman. Jaffe not only learned about the water cycle, but new ways to teach it such as incorporating videos and games.

Jaffe brought that to her classroom by playing a song about the water cycle instead of just showing pictures, something key for autistic students who are auditory learners.

Despite teaching a complicated subject to her students, Jaffe feels the new teaching methods were helpful.

“If the vocabulary is followed through at home, I think they could grasp it as a very simple concept—the rainwater is the same water we use,” Jaffe said.

Manuela Zamora, acting director of education programs at New York Sun Works, said the training, has sparked interest in bringing additional sustainability education directly to the schools of the teachers in attendance, a service the nonprofit provides free of charge.

Zamora said in addition to offering more training, the next evolution of the project is growing a platform for teachers to communicate how they are applying what they learned at their schools.

“I think that will show what impact we are having through teacher training. I am really hoping to have that soon,” she said during the class.

The DOE has approved a summer course slated to start July 5 and a fall program is awaiting approval.

Zamora said a second course may be offered for teachers who have completed this class to build on what they have learned, but no plans were finalized.