Teaching Students to Care for Their Planet: Environmental Studies HS
How many high schools offer the opportunity to eat a raspberry on a student-designed rooftop garden? Environmental Studies High School (HSES) does. Located on 444 West 56th Street, HSES teaches its students the importance of maintaining and understanding the one planet we have.
“Students are given a sense of responsibility about the environment,” said Principal Shirley Matthews. “There’s an importance in spreading awareness.” Environmental studies, as the school’s name announces, is the crux of the curricula. While the school offers a wide variety of science classes, HSES humanities and arts classes attempt to incorporate the environment into their lessons. The school offers unique twists on classes, such as environmental ethics.
However, HSES takes education beyond the classroom. With organization from The Friends of HSES, an advisor system within the school, students are given the opportunity to take their environmental knowledge and skills into the real world. The school has done projects like studying the New York sewer system, cleaning up the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn and designing historical walking trails through Carroll Gardens.
“These projects show students that they have the power to make a difference,” said M’Lis Bartlett, Executive Director of Friends of HSES.
Within the school, HSES offers plenty of hands-on opportunities. Lab rooms are large and well-equipped. Almost all contain multiple tanks with fish and animals. The most unique asset is the school’s student-run garden on the rooftop. The students designed and built the benches in art class, measured soil sizes in math class and labeled the plants by learning the original Latin names in AP biology.
At its core, HSES is an academically rigorous school with a competitive admissions process. The school receives almost 3,000 applications and can accept about 300 each year.
“We want students that are interested in school and have a willingness to learn,” said Matthews.
The school has had plenty of success. Of its 2002 graduating class, 97 percent graduated with Regents diplomas and 95 percent enrolled in higher education.
Matthews contributes much of the school’s success to its “dedicated” and “enthusiastic” teaching staff. With consistent and enjoyable staff development, the teachers continue to make HSES the best it can be. Its newest endeavor is to combine the different departments into classrooms to develop a more integrated learning environment.
“Our hope is to have a place where faculty hates to go home and students love to come to school,” Matthews said.#
For more information, visit www.envirostudies.com.