By Tina Wong, Sustainability Coach @PS34, Greenpoint Eco-Schools Program
STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics; and STEM education is an interdisciplinary and applied approach to solving problems and to understanding how the world works. Green STEM, however, does this within the context of the students’ own communities, challenging them to solve problems that exist around them, and thereby making the experience more relevant and inspiring.
At PS 34, the Green STEM class is taught by Jeannie Marshall. Utilizing resources from National Wildlife Federation’s Eco-Schools USA, Solar One, Cooper Hewitt Design Museum, Shelburne Farms, and others, the curriculum provides students with rich content and hands-on lessons that are both fun and engaging. Each grade level in the Green STEM program has a different focus. Lower grades begin with understanding the Eco-Schools’ Pathways to Sustainability – Consumption &; Waste, Energy, Water, Healthy School, and Schoolyard Habitat. As students enter the upper grades, the knowledge that they have gained are applied to design solutions, first within the school, then in the broader community and finally with a global perspective.
During the 2015-2016 school year, 4th and 5th graders competed to redesign the school’s front yard garden space. Student teams spent 9 weeks researching, conceptualizing, and then designing the garden. Six semi-finalist were then selected, one from each class; from that, a panel of judges chose the final 2 winning teams – their design was built in June of 2016 as a Legacy Project funded by the Greenpoint Eco-Schools Program, and in partnership with TreesNY and Starr Whitehouse – Landscape Architects and Planners.
“My team members were Ada, Maya and Pola and our research topic was native plants. We wanted to have butterfly weeds, smooth roses, flowering dogwoods and a lot of wooden benches. I learned that native plants can survive for long periods of time without any help from us so it would be easy to take care of. Even though this was a tough project, it was really fun! One of the reasons was because I felt like a real landscape designer. Another reason why I loved this project is because I got to do it with all my friends and together we can help the school be a better place for us and the community.” – Jade Evertt, 5th Grader.
This year, with the Cycle 5 Participatory Budgeting that was awarded to PS 34 for a new STEM lab, 4th and 5th graders will have another opportunity to redesign a space at their school! Student teams, again, will spend 9 weeks on this interior design project and winning team(s) will have an opportunity to be part of a steering committee, to make decisions on the final build for the lab. “I’m so excited to be able to design Ms. Marshall’s classroom. I hope that my team wins!” – Delilah Lesniewski, 4th Grader.
When all’s said and done, PS 34 has a garden that was designed by their students and soon, a Green STEM lab, that students will have a voice in shaping, but the true legacy is the experience that every student will leave with – learning how to work in teams and collaborate effectively, to be able to communicate and present a cohesive plan – knowing that they are the leaders and changemakers of our future.