Written by Sarah Ward, Project Manager for Greenpoint Eco-Schools
New York City’s public schools are back in session this week, and thanks to the work of four local Eco-Heroes, also known as the Greenpoint Eco-Schools Sustainability Coaches, Greenpoint students are returning to schools where environmental inquiry and action are generating positive changes for their schools, the environment, and the Greenpoint community.
Funded by a grant from the Greenpoint Community Environmental Fund, and as part of National Wildlife Federation’s Greenpoint Eco-Schools program, Alison Schuettinger, Tina Wong, Fran Agnone, and Fai Walker are Sustainability Coaches who work full-time in four Greenpoint schools: PS 31, PS 34, PS 110, and MS 126, respectively.
You may be asking yourself: what exactly is a Sustainability Coach? In short, Alison, Tina, Fran, and Fai are charged with greening their school’s curriculum, culture, and infrastructure. They do this by educating, supporting, and collaborating with the entire school community: staff, students, families, and community partners, among others. With the goal of reaching specific sustainability targets–including measurable reductions in landfill waste, energy, and water conservation, increased green space, and improved indoor air quality at the schools–these four Eco-Heroes have already led their schools in achieving remarkable environmental results.
For example, as a result of the recycling and food waste collection systems implemented at the beginning of the program, each of the four schools averaged an 80% landfill waste diversion rate last year and prevented over 80,000 pounds of waste from being sent to landfills! Fai Walker, MS 126 Sustainability Coach, knew everyone at the school was listening and learning when the school’s security guard asked her, “How can I start composting at home?” After only one year of programming, not only has energy consumption dropped significantly, but new gardens and green spaces have been established at the schools, all due to their leadership!
With strong backgrounds in and personal dedication to sustainability-based principles and practices, Alison, Tina, Fran, and Fai bring a wealth of knowledge, creativity, and passion to their school communities. Although there is no such thing as a “typical day” for a Sustainability Coach, it would not be unusual to find them leading students in a tree investigation and scavenger hunt at McGolrick Park, managing Green Team students as they inspected classrooms for “Energy Vampires,” organizing a Family Field Trip to the North Brooklyn Boat Club, designing and constructing vertical gardens with afterschool students, or collaborating with a teacher on a STEM-based design project that will culminate in a new school garden and outdoor classroom.
The heart of the Greenpoint Eco-Schools program is student leadership and service learning; by cultivating environmental responsibility and engaging in local experiences, students understand that they have the ability to make a difference, at home and in their communities. Fran Agnone, PS 110 Sustainability Coach, relates a story, “On the first day of school, a student took a digital camera out of her pocket and shared pictures of art projects she made out of recycled material over the summer. I am always delighted to see how students find inspiration at home and so grateful to be part of those experiences.”
Alison Schuettinger, PS 31 Sustainability Coach, was also impressed by her student leaders on the first day back to school, “During the first lunch period, I turned around to find two 5th graders, with gloves on, ready to lead as Waste Warriors (cafeteria recycling monitors). I was so amazed; without any hesitation or prompting, they remembered everything from the previous school year. Immediately after, I was greeted with a hug from another student. Encounters like these make me feel blessed every day; the students are my teachers as much as I am theirs.”
Tina Wong, PS 34 Sustainability Coach, sums it all up nicely, “My happiest moments are when I hear my students ask me, ‘how can I help…?’ Teaching sustainability teaches empathy; it teaches children to care and our program empowers them to make a difference.”
Based on the resounding success so far, the community should be looking forward to seeing how the leadership of the Sustainability Coaches will certainly inspire a new generation of Eco-Heroes!