Building upon neighborhood relationships, we launched a great program with the second grade classrooms at nearby Giffen Elementary School, supported by the Charles L. Touhey Foundation, Inc.!
The program began in February of 2017, and consisted of sustainability education undergraduate students from RPI working with four different second-grade classes at Giffen. Visits lasted from roughly 10AM to 12 noon each Wednesday, and consisted of lessons based around different themes. Subjects and activities we covered included:
- Growing microgreens and plant biology
- Soil structure and health
- Building worm composting bins and waste issues
- Air quality issues and studying the air quality index
- Renewable energy: solar, wind, and bicycle power
- Place-based education: the ecology of the South End
- Urban Biodiversity: the birds and bugs of Albany
Typically, lessons would begin with RPI students giving a short presentation on the general theme of each week, and then progress with the class dividing into smaller groups to work on hands-on projects. RPI students would meet with me each Monday to discuss teaching goals for the upcoming week. Projects were designed to build upon each other. For instance, microgreens were grown and eaten, and the leftover roots and seeds were fed to worms for further processing.
Once temperatures had warmed sufficiently in April, classes began making weekly visits to the Radix Center, conveniently located around the corner from Giffen. By doing this, students were able to observe the “micro-scale” systems they had been building in their classrooms modelled on a “meso” or neighborhood scale. This comparison gave them a sense of their place in the larger community, as well as the possibility for broader-scale sustainability system implementation.
The Radix visits were well-timed with the beginning of the growing season. Students were allowed the opportunity to weed garden beds, plant seeds, and observe germination and growth. Furthermore, they were able to observe closed-loop systems by feeding weeds to animals on the Radix farm, and seeing how compost was used to fertilize garden beds. Other topics explored were the ecology of compost piles and decomposers, and water cycles and rainwater harvesting.
Overall the program was a fantastic success. Not only did Giffen students learn and experience an incredible amount, but RPI students benefited from the experience of teaching in a real classroom setting.