SOUTH STREET SEAPORT — A couple of thousand public middle school students will soon feed and grow oysters as part of their school work thanks to a $5 million grant from the National Science Foundation, education officials and ecological advocates said Thursday.
The Billion Oysters Project — a program that aims to clean and restore the city’s waterways over the next 15 years by growing oysters in the city’s harbor — is using the money to start a fellowship through which public school teachers will develop a new marine-based math and science curriculum for sixth through eighth grade students.
“We want kids to invest in their local environment and to get excited about environmental science,” said Sam Janis, the project manager of Billion Oysters Project.
Billion Oyster Project hopes the new program will be implemented in 60 public middle schools that serve low-income students.
“Our target is to reach over 8,500 middle school students over the next three years,” Janis said, “Hopefully that will lead them to make good choices later when they go to high school but also in their future career.”
The new curriculum, which will follow State and Common Core standards, will include oyster gardening and monitoring, water quality analysis and plankton samplings at one of the 30 oyster gardens Billion Oysters Project currently has in the city.
Dozens of high school students from the Harbor School, where a similar marine-based curriculum has been developed over the last six years, said they were excited the program was going to be extended.
“I just love it,” said 16-year-old Jessie Floyd about her current curriculum. “You don’t get bored because you’re always out doing hands-on activities, you’re on a boat, you have your hands in the water, you learn so much about your city and the water.”
“It’s great that other students are going to do that too because unfortunately we’re going to be the ones stuck with cleaning our polluted planet so we need to learn about all that,” she added.
Between 80 and 120 middle school math and science teachers will be able to apply to the fellowship as soon as next week with their training set to start next spring at Pace University, Janis said.
The two-year fellowship, for which teachers will receive a $3,000 stipend, will include monthly meetings with marine life experts, scientists and a curriculum specialist.
Teachers will learn about ecological restoration, marine engineering, computer science and environmental policies. They will then test different ways to implement this knowledge in their classrooms through theoretical lessons and hands-on activities, Janis said.
“This curriculum is going to be a work in progress for the next three years,” Janis said. “And then hopefully it will be made available to all schools.”
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, who was present at a Thursday press conference announcing the grant, praised the initiative as an innovative way to provide students with experimental learning experiences and to connect young New Yorkers with their environment.
“You have every element in the process for success and more importantly to show us how to make this right,” Fariña said.
Part of the grant will also be allocated to develop marine-based after-school programs ran by nonprofits like The Good Shepherd Services, Janis said.