High School Students Spend a Year Studying the Bronx River

June 21, 2016

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Rocking the Boat (New York) connects students to academic concepts about water and waterways through its On-Water Classroom in the South Bronx. Photo courtesy of Rocking the Boat.

Rocking the Boat (New York) connects students to academic concepts about water and waterways through its On-Water Classroom in the South Bronx. Photo courtesy of Rocking the Boat.

Rocking the Boat, a youth development organization based in the South Bronx of New York City, offers water-based educational programs for underserved students and provides real-world experiences and engagement that goes beyond traditional classrooms. Programs include opportunities for youth to learn boat building, practice sailing, conduct environmental research, and participate in environmental restoration.

Students from the South Bronx are exposed to the ecological diversity of the Bronx River and participate in hands-on activities that include water quality monitoring and restoration projects. Photo courtesy of Rocking the Boat.

Students from the South Bronx are exposed to the ecological diversity of the Bronx River and participate in hands-on activities that include water quality monitoring and restoration projects. Photo courtesy of Rocking the Boat.

The organization’s On-Water Classroom introduces students to the ecological diversity of the Bronx River in programs that typically span 3 to 6 weeks, but beginning last summer, a GE (Fairfield, Conn.) skills grant allowed 40 students from the ninth and tenth grades of Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School in the Bronx to attend the On-Water Classroom for a full year. Students took part in water quality and ecological monitoring efforts.

“Gaining long-term exposure in studying the natural resources of the Bronx River and putting real-world skills to work represents a wonderful growth and development opportunity for these young people,” said Adam Green, executive director of Rocking the Boat.

The On-Water Classroom activities such as monitoring aqatic species helps youths build self-confidence, maintain healthy relationships, and acquire skills to finish high school. Photo courtesy of Rocking the Boat.

The On-Water Classroom activities such as monitoring aqatic species helps youths build self-confidence, maintain healthy relationships, and acquire skills to finish high school. Photo courtesy of Rocking the Boat.

Throughout the year, the Fannie Lou Hamer students worked on building nesting boxes as part of a tree swallow repopulation project in nearby Soundview Park. They also participated in a project monitoring American eels in the river in conjunction with the Wildlife Conservation Society (New York) and the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation.

“Many of our students come from Hunts Point in the South Bronx, which is the poorest congressional district in the nation with some of the most challenging social and economic issues anywhere,” Green said. “A huge part of our program is focused on providing youth from this neighborhood with deep engagement opportunities, using real mediums as a way to learn and affect change on a very practical level.”

In addition to revitalizing the spirits of the young people participating, Rocking the Boat’s environmental work helps improve the water quality and health of the Bronx River, according to Green.

The On-Water Classroom creates unique and hands-on learning experiences for students such as using maps to examine the Bronx River. Photo courtesy of Rocking the Boat.

The On-Water Classroom creates unique and hands-on learning experiences for students such as using maps to examine the Bronx River. Photo courtesy of Rocking the Boat.

“We have this amazing resource that is actually quite full of life but still has some really significant environmental challenges in regards to water quality as a result of combined sewer outflows,” Green said. “Our program offers a way for students to realize that they can have a role in helping improve the beauty and biodiversity of the river. For us, the river is a powerful metaphor for what we are trying to do in the kids’ lives, both personally and professionally.”

— Jeff Gunderson, WEF Highlights

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