The students at PS 35, a school on Staten Island’s North Shore that serves children in grades K through 5, are growing a lot more than plants in their greenhouse, thanks to the College of Staten Island and ConEdison. After receiving a $20,000 grant from ConEd, CSI’s Discovery Institute and its Teaching Scholars program have enlisted CSI students to go to PS 35 and help the children and their teachers run the greenhouse. As a result, the green inhabitants of the facility are happier, but so is everyone involved: the schoolchildren, the CSI students, and the teachers.
The Greenhouse Project is a supplemental program, focusing on science and the environment. CSI faculty, including Biology Department Chair Richard Veit, and Assistant Professor of Chemistry Ralf Peetz contribute their expertise, advice, and supervision in regard to the curriculum, while Ivin Doctor, director of the Teaching Scholars program coordinates CSI student involvement.
Ashleigh Groth, an elementary education major at CSI and one of the two Teaching Scholars involved, says that her “experience with this program has just been unbelievable. Being able to do different grades definitely helped to let me know where I want to be as a teacher, what grade level works best for me… I was able to learn that I worked better with younger children and I thought, actually, that I was going to [work with] older children. So, that really helped me to find myself.” As for her impact on the children, Groth adds, “through the Greenhouse Project, working with all the different grades, seeing what their abilities are in science, and being able to help them work hands-on in the greenhouse, I think that the program is excellent. The greenhouse allows children to come out of the classroom with hands-on experience, visualizations, [experience in] working with groups, and with us being there we’re able to circulate through the groups and actually make sure that they’re doing the work, and that they understand why we’re doing this.”
The Project’s other Teaching Scholar is Debbie Miranda, an education major at CSI who will be receiving her associate’s degree this semester. She relates a similar experience of self-discovery through the Project. “I first came to school in hopes of going into psychology and I got involved with Mr. Doctor. Because of that, I decided to go into education and I started working with high school students. I’m now working with elementary students, so I’ve had the opportunity to see children at all different ages. Working with the children in the Greenhouse Project, I get to see them work hands-on and actually understand what’s going on with science. And I actually found that that’s where I want to be in education.” Hoping eventually to teach special education, Debbie has chosen to give additional assistance to students who are lagging behind the others to help them catch up.
Doctor explains that the students who become Teaching Scholars are often those who initially are not going into education. Through Teaching Scholars, CSI students are placed in actual classroom situations with the hope that they will get a better idea of their career goals after the experience. Even if they decide against an education career, Doctor said that the experience is “a win/win” because CSI students enhance the educational experience of their pupils, while discovering more about their career paths while also getting paid.
Building on the theme of discovery, Doctor says that the Greenhouse Project puts a new spin on science education. “Science in the elementary school is often handled in a very dry, robot-like manner because the teachers themselves aren’t comfortable with the [topic. This Project] is almost like a marriage because it’s a discovery situation, which is what we are all about.” The children learn from the CSI mentors, and the mentors learn from the schoolchildren and the teacher.
Ralf Peetz recalls that the Project began initially as a way to provide support to the greenhouse, but explains, “the bigger goal behind it is to give the kids a respect and appreciation of the environment around them—the sciences, life sciences—by providing them with role models [who are] helping the teacher. But it’s a give and take on both sides, in essence. The kids get more out of the greenhouse, so it can be used to the full extent, and there are plans to introduce creative writing and reading in connection with the greenhouse so it’s being used in more dimensions than were originally conceived.” At the same time, Peetz continues, “science is not a foreign vocabulary anymore but it’s a hands-on experience, it gets respect, and you just grow up in a different way appreciating it… I think this provides the kids with tremendous opportunities, as well as everybody who’s connected.”
“As a company dedicated to education and environmental excellence, Con Edison partners with institutions like the College of Staten Island that share its concerns for preserving and protecting the environment through conservation and beautification projects and educational initiatives,” said Mark Irving, Director of Public Affairs for ConEd. “Working with CSI on the greenhouse and environmental studies program at PS 35 is an example of community and corporate entities taking steps to enhance the quality of life for all and instill values in future generations. It’s important that our customers know that preserving the environment is part of our business philosophy and we are willing to team up with them to educate our children to build and maintain strong and stable neighborhoods. This project will help professors and students, at the college- and grade school-level to cultivate a “green consciousness.”
“This is part of a benevolent cycle of giving,” said Robert E. Huber, Vice President for Institutional Advancement at CSI. “We are grateful to ConEdison for their funding, and proud of our continued strategic partnership with Staten Island schools. This wonderful program will instill a love of nature and a sense of environmental stewardship in our schoolchildren, and will ultimately have far-reaching benefits to our entire community. I look forward to working with Mark, and all our friends at ConEd, on future projects.”
At present, the Greenhouse Project only has funding for one year, but Peetz and Doctor hope that they will secure more financial support to continue this community partnership and its important work.