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Jennifer Freeman

Jennifer Freeman

Thursday, 21 July 2011 14:58

Ten years is too long for PCB cleanup

A group of parents filed a lawsuit in Brooklyn yesterday to force the Department of Education to speed up its replacement of fluorescent lights that contain toxic PCBs.

The suit, as reported in today's Times, says that the DOE's proposed time frame of  up to ten years is too long, puts children at risk and violates the federal Toxic Substances Control Act.

The Times article quotes Miranda Massie, legal director of New York Lawyers for the Public Interest as saying  “We’ve been pushing for a two-year time line, which we are confident is plausible based on advice from technical and contracting experts.”

City schools were celebrated for their amazing green accomplishments, as the winners of the 2011 Golden Apple Awards, the Department of Sanitation’s annual contest of recycling and green, were announced last week.

PS/IS192 The Magnet School for Math and Science Inquiry in Brooklyn won the citywide award for its recycling initiative, complete with schoolwide Recycling Squads, a school-wide “Go Green” campaign, and a “junk-to-funk” fashion show.

In Queens, the winner was PS 76 William Hallet, where teachers and students came together to start a recycling program.

In Inwood, IS 52 InwoodSchool of Environmental and Applied Sciences students adopted street trees and cared for them with compost, flowers, an information campaign, and wooden fences.

The May meeting of the District 3 Green Schools Group hosted Diana Biagioli, a recycling enthusiast from PS 89 Liberty School in lower Manhattan who, it turns out, won the Golden Apples’ Trashmasters! Reduce and Reuse challenge. PS 89 not only eliminated styrofoam trays from its cafeteria, but also convinced a local community supported agriculture farm to take its used sugar cane pulp trays back to the farm to be composted.

“If you’re getting rid of styrofoam but sending the sugar cane trays to the landfill, that’s not all that helpful,” said Biagioli. "We were ecstatic that our efforts were honored with a Golden Apple  award.  We had no idea that we would win but we were confident that
regardless of the outcome we might be able to help other schools with  the process of eliminating styrofoam from their cafeterias.  It is NOT  a mission impossible!"

As always, it was heartwarming to read the schools’ applications on the Golden Apple Website, and see all the fantastic energy going into schools going green all around the city.

In other good news, two weeks after telling parents at a District 3 Town Hall that he is a big believer in sustainability, Chancellor Walcott made good on his promise to put a link to the DOE Sustainability Initiative page from the much-used Department of Education landing page. That link should make it easier for people in the school community connect with DOE resources for schools going green. Thanks, Chancellor!

Thursday, 05 May 2011 07:06

MLK Wins $100K to Invest in Green

It was not quite a coincidence that the Martin Luther King High School Campus, which hosted the citywide Green Schools NYC 2011 last month, also won the Green Cup Challenge energy reduction contest, lowering its energy consumption by more than 35%   during the monthlong quest to go greener. As a result, MLK and its five high schools will receive $25,000 to invest in greening the campus.

In all, $100,000 was awarded to Green Cup Challenge winners this year to invest in their schools. The money came from DCAS, the city's Division of Citywide Administrative Services, which pays schools’ utility bills and stands to gain most directly (all residents of Planet Earth benefit as well) from lower energy use.

“The students and staff who have won these awards are helping lead the way toward a more energy-efficient future, and will help reduce City government’s greenhouse gas emissions,” said David Bragdon, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability. Bragdon said the city has allocated $280 million to energy reduction measures, but “the active participation and operating practices of teachers, custodians, administrators and students is essential” in making the gains stick.

A list of the other winners shows many impressive gains, for an average gain of 16% over all the 45 schools that participated actively in the contest. Schools reduced energy by turning off lights and computers when not in use, and working with custodians to look at building controls.

Green mom and Whole Living Daily blogger Francesca Olivieri posted some of the videos here that schools produced for the Green Cup Challenge.

It was not quite a coincidence that the Martin Luther King High School Campus, which hosted the citywide Green Schools NYC 2011 last month, also won the Green Cup Challenge energy reduction contest, lowering its energy consumption by more than 35%   during the month long quest to go greener. As a result, MLK and its six high schools will receive $25,000 to invest in greening the campus.

In all, $100,000 was given out to Green Cup Challenge winners to invest in their schools. The money came from DCAS, the Division of Citywide Administrative Services, which pays schools’ utility bills and stands to gain from lower energy use.Add an Image

“The students and staff who have won these awards are helping lead the way toward a more energy-efficient future, and will help reduce City government’s greenhouse gas emissions,” said David Bragdon, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability. Bragdon said the city has allocated $280 million to energy reduction measures, but “the active participation and operating practices of teachers, custodians, administrators and students is essential.” in making the gains stick.

A list of the other winners shows many impressive gains, for an average gain of 16% over all the 45 schools that participated actively in the contest. Schools reduced energy by turning off lights and computers when not in use, and working with custodians to look at building controls.

Green mom and Whole Living Daily blogger Francesca Olivieri posted some of the videos here that schools produced for the Green Cup Challenge. And here's a link to a winning video from IS/HS 368 In-Tech Academy in the Bronx.

Truck Farm at Bancroft Elementary, Washington DC. Photo by Sarah Bernardi

NYC public schools will be on vacation for Earth Day on April 22, but plenty of schools are organizing environmental excitement before or after the break. The teachers who run Educating Tomorrow have been doing their part, running teach-ins for teachers who want to bring this knowledge to their students. National Environmental Education Week and other organizations have been plastering the Web with great ideas. But in my neighborhood, many District 3 Earth Day activities have been spearheaded by parents.

At PS 333 (Manhattan School for Children), the week kicks off with a family fitness night, with sports ranging from baseball to yoga. There will be  in-class screenings of Annie Leonard’s 15-minute video The Story of Stuff, and on-campus “field trips” to show children how the school building uses energy. For grownups in the building, there is a seminar on green cleaning and indoor air quality, as well as a fundraiser selling waste-free lunch materials such as Lunchskins.

A “cafe-to-table” day brings a lunchtime salad bar with greens from Sunworks’ rooftop greenhouse into the cafeteria, mixed with donated vegetables from the local farmer’s market. A local restaurant will incorporate an ingredient from the greenhouse in its menu with the help of PS 333 3rd graders.

PS 334 (Anderson School) will be celebrating Earth Day on Friday, April 29. The theme this year is about learning where our food comes from, presenting different models of urban agriculture and introducing the concepts of sustainable agriculture.

Students in grades K-4 will watch the short film Truck Farm about growing vegetables in the back of a pick-up truck in Brooklyn. Then they will have a real treat as the truck from Truck Farm comes to the school yard and Curt Ellis, one of the film's creators will be on hand to answer questions. Students will also bring in wacky containers to plant seeds to launch the Wicked Delicate 2nd annual gardening contest.

Students in grades 5-8 will watch the film What's on Your Plate? with a follow-up science class discussion about where food comes from, the benefits of locally grown produce, and healthy eating habits.

Lucky middle school students in the Anderson School will visit Brooklyn Grange, a roof top farm on a commercial building in Long Island City, run by farmer Ben Flanner. The students will help out with seasonal chores such as transplanting seedlings, pruning and staking, and turning the compost pile. Other students will plant seedlings in the school’s tree pits during recess.

The goal, parent organizers say, is for students to come away from the day with a better understanding of urban agriculture and sources for healthy food in the city.

What is your school doing for the Earth Day season?

The Department of Education will announce the winner of the Green Cup Challenge at Green Schools NYC 2011, a citywide fair that will take place on Saturday at the Martin Luther King high school complex at Amsterdam Avenue and 65th Street in Manhattan. The fair will also feature dozens of schools and organizations engaged in greening their buildings and the planet through recycling, compost, energy efficiency, and more. Check out the winning students’ video from MS/HS 368 In-Tech in the Bronx.

One of my personal heroes, Majora Carter, who worked to bring green spaces to the South Bronx and founded the organization Sustainable South Bronx, will be speaking in the afternoon at the fair. And the PS 22 chorus will perform! Register here for the free event.

This month is Earth Month, and many schools are holding events. Educating Tomorrow, the UFT teachers’ Green Committee, offers a huge an continuing list of opportunities for student programing, professional development, and other events for people interested in environmental education. Join the Educating Tomorrow Google Group for updates on opportunities for people of all ages, from a spring ecology hike to an Earth Month teach-in.

The Earth Day NY website lists e-waste recycling events around the city and also hosts a fair at Grand Central from April 21-23.

Next week is National Environmental Education week. Encourage your teachers to include some environmental education in their curriculum, enter National Environmental Education Week’s photo blog contest, and take children outside to learn from the world around us.

Besides, spring has arrived this week with the forsythia, daffodils and redbud emerging in the parks. Time to get the children outside!

A hundred public schools around the city are setting off on a monthlong challenge to reduce their energy consumption. For the next four weeks, schools participating in the Green Cup Challenge will read their electric meters each Friday, and try to reduce energy use at school during the week. A list of participating schools can be found on the contest's website.

Last year kids got really involved and the average savings was 10-20%. Half of it was just from turning off devices when not in use,” said Division of School Facilities Sustainability team member Val Norets.

The learning curve is steep: last week Norets’ own challenge was to help school custodians figure out their schools’ energy use baseline, the amount of energy used in their school at this time in a typical year. “Between people’s overall interest in energy and the importance of the topic, and the classes the Department of Education provides for custodians, they’re getting more involved. I think we can already see a result.”

Last year’s Green Cup Challenge winner in the NYC Public School Division was PS 166, which reduced its electricity consumption 17.75%, saving $1,845 on its electricity bill (15,380 kilowatt hours), and keeping 20,609 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) out of the atmosphere. The school’s energy reduction came through a variety of actions. Signs reminded everyone to "turn off lights" and "power down computers."  Each classroom had "Climate Captains" who ensured that lights were turned off at lunch and recess, thermostats set to 68 degrees, computer monitors turned off when not in use.

This year’s Green Cup Challenge winners will be recognized  at the Green Schools Alliance Resource Fair, to be held Saturday April 9 at Martin Luther King Jr. High School.

Jon Stewart this week blasted conservative media and politicians for protecting Wall Street while calling teachers “greedy.” Last night Stewart’s guest was education historian and NYU Professor  Diane Ravitch, discussing her book The Death and Life of the Great American School System. I watched the show with Diane herself in a room full of education activists who shared the views that have made Ravitch a major voice in education in this country.

Stewart’s mother was a teacher, and the personal offense he takes from the recent fad of teacher bashing comes across. "So what reforms do we need to change the conversation?" Stewart asked. Ravitch said that teachers all over country are demoralized, and Education Secretary Arne Duncan, as well as corporate philanthropists Eli Broad and Bill Gates, are on the wrong track.  Rather than focusing on which teachers to punish or lay off, we should be looking at making sure children have adequate health care and pre-K education. Watch Jon Stewart’s interview with Diane Ravitch and see what you think.

What can be done in a tough economic climate to improve school food without spending any more money? That was the question that Robert Jackson, chair of the City Council’s education committee, asked at last week’s hearing on School Food.

The answer was: plenty, actually.

Chef Bill Telepan, co-founder of the healthy school food program Wellness in the Schools, called for more minimally processed ingredients to be permitted on SchoolFood procurement lists.

Christina Grace, of the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, called for the Department of Education to separate produce from other foods in the contracts so that DOE can deal directly with the region’s farmers. She also called for more salad bars to be installed, as did others at the hearing.  About half of  the city's schools have salad bars now.

An advocate from Karp Resources, a food organization that has worked for years with the Department of Education's SchoolFood division to improve cafeteria food, called for the DOE to adjust its specifications so that they don’t exclude varieties of produce—  such as watermelon and tomatoes — that grow well in our region. Current specs sometimes call only for produce that does not grow locally.

A parent from NYC Green Schools suggested that DOE could improve its food by holding vendors accountable to SchoolFood’s existing specifications.  For example, a loaf of  "wheat" bread from a school cafeteria was brought to the hearing. It was supposed to be whole wheat, but seemed to fall short: its ingredients said only “wheat flour” and its brown color was helped along by “caramel coloring.”

Perhaps someone would like to take up the challenge of investigating whether other school food items fall similarly short? And if anyone from SchoolFood is reading this, please let us know when your bread vendor switches to actual whole wheat.

Many of the suggestions made during the hearing would require not money, but a little more proactivity from SchoolFood, a slightly higher priority on local food procurement,  and some creative thinking. These low cost changes are perfect spots to focus on in a tough economic environment.

The hearing was jointly hosted by  Council members Jackson and Darlene Mealy, head of the City Council’s Contracts Committee.

Over 400 of the city's public schools burn a type of heating oil that is known to injure New Yorkers' health, according to a 2009 report by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). Though just one percent of New York City's buildings use No. 4 or 6 oil, those few buildings belch out 87 percent of the soot emitted from burning heating oil in the City.

On February 1, Community Board 7 passed a resolution asking the city to take "immediate steps" to replace schools' boilers so that they can burn cleaner fuels, particularly natural gas. The Number 4 or 6 oil that the board would like to eliminate is also known as "refinery sludge."

The city has been trying to move forward on getting rid of dirty oil boilers, which lead to illnesses such as asthma and bronchitis, and create emissions that the city has pledged to reduce as part of PlaNYC 2030.  It's a rare issue, particularly one involving schools, on which all parties are at least theoretically in agreement.

There are at least 14 public schools with boilers that burn dirty oil in District 3 alone, including PS 9, MS 54, and the Brandeis complex. As a recent article on dirty oil pointed out, the Mayor's PlaNYC 2030 has called for replacing boilers at 100 schools (about a quarter of the total).  A School Construction Authority spokesperson said seven school boilers have been replaced to date, with 25 more replacements currently planned.

A map of dirty buildings can be found on the Environmental Defense Website. While replacing boilers is expensive, the EDF report authors say that running a cleaner boiler is cheaper in the long run, not only because of indirect savings like health care costs, but also because natural gas is expected to remain much less expensive for years to come, and boilers that use it cost less to maintain.

As Community Board 7 points out, the dirty oil boilers in coops and schools are not only polluting our communities and reducing New Yorkers’ quality of life, they are also sending money up in smoke that could be better used in the classrooms, not in our air.

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