Aug. 29, 2019 By Shane O’Brien
Students in Long Island City will be learning about the condition of the Newtown Creek thanks to an innovative new program.
The program is being rolled out at two Hunters Point public schools next month and students will learn about the creek’s water quality, its plant life and sources of pollution.
Students will also be taught about the city’s waste treatment plants and how stormwater and raw sewage flows into the creek when the treatment plants are overwhelmed when it rains.
The curriculum will be taught to students between fourth and eighth grades at Hunters Point Community Middle School and PS/IS 78. The program, crafted by the Newtown Creek Alliance and the Hunters Point Parks Conservancy, comes to Long Island City following a successful pilot at four Greenpoint schools last year.
The curriculum will be taught by four teachers at each school and is called the Newtown Creek Urban Ecology STEM Curriculum. It involves both field work and applied learning.
The schools were chosen due to their close proximity to the river.
Lisa Bloodgood, the Newtown Creek Alliance Director of Advocacy and Education, said that the group wants to “bring the creek into the classroom and the classroom out to the creek.”
Much of the field work will take place at Hunters Point South Park, where the Newtown Creek meets the East River.
Hunters Point Parks Conservancy President Rob Basch said that the new program would teach students about environmental issues at the creek.
“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,” said Basch.
Teachers attended a two-day training course over the summer where they learned the curriculum. The teachers were taught how to carry out various research activities, such as testing the quality of the water.
The Alliance’s curriculum is split up into four units, including soil quality, water quality, flora and fauna, and watershed and sewershed.
Students will take field trips to learn about the creek as part of the curriculum and they will also come up with solutions for problems they identify. Solutions include designing stormwater catchment systems for their school.
Previous Newtown Creek Alliance ecology class (NCA)
The Alliance says that the Newtown Creek was at one point among the most polluted bodies of water in the United States. Industrial waste, raw sewage and pollution from nearby streets has flowed into the creek for more than 100 years.
Bloodgood said that the condition of the creek is improving, but that a lot of work still needs to be done.
She said that the creek’s water is more alive than it has been in 100 years, but that it still contains an “alphabet soup of chemical pollutants” and sees 1.2 billion gallons of sewage and storm water dumped into it each year.
The group’s mission is to reveal, restore and revitalize the creek. Bloodgood said that there cannot be any restoration or revitalization without first revealing the true state of the river.
“People don’t care about things they can’t see, so we wanted to bring classrooms to the water,” said Bloodgood. “They then see how their actions can impact it. They see that the river is alive.”
The Newtown Creek Alliance and Hunters Point Parks Conservancy will officially unveil the new program and curriculum at a press conference on Sept. 5. The program is funded by the NYC Environmental Fund and the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation.
The curriculum is available to download online at http://www.newtowncreekalliance.org/curriculum/