Air Date: July 7, 1995
School Yard Turns Wild/ Robin Finesmith
An elementary school in suburban Ohio has turned part of its grounds into an outdoor classroom and wetlands education project. With this experimental land-lab, students learn about biodiversity first hand. Robin Finesmith reports from Living on Earth's Midwest Bureau at WCPN, Cleveland. (05:55)
NY's Enviro High/ Neil Rauch
Known for its many specialty high schools, the New York City school system has added an environment high to its ranks. The course-work features ecology, and the school building itself is a model of energy efficiency. Teachers and students alike say the campus garden helps keep attendance high. Reporter Neil Rauch explains. (06:04)
Listeners Respond to Answer Report
Alaskans and others offer their opinions on the Congressional bid to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. (03:12)
A Rose is Red in Harlem/ Evelyn Tully-Costa
Harlem residents of all ages and backgrounds are making vacant spaces green, and rebuilding a sense of community. The gardeners are cultivating more than vegetables, trees, and flowers in this famous urban setting. Evelyn Tully-Costa reports. (06:02)
Copyright c 1995 by World Media Foundation. No portion of this transcript may be copied, sold, or transmitted without the written authority of World Media Foundation.
HOST: Steve Curwood
NEWSCASTER: Jan Nunley
REPORTERS: Miguel Sancho, Dan Karpenchuk, Robin Finesmith, Neal
Rauch, Evelyn Tully Costa
(Theme music intro)
CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, this is Living on Earth.
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CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.
New York City's special high schools are known the world over for turning out furst-rate graduates in the sciences and performing arts. Now a new high school in New York is turning out leaders in environmental studies.
GUMBS: Since we're the stewards of the Earth, you could say, I mean, we make all these horrible decisions. I just want to have a chance to rectify what we've done.
CURWOOD: Also, some Ohio grade school kids are learning first-hand about biological diversity and wildlife management, by turning their schoolyard into a land lab.
BRUNS: We're making this happen. It was an idea. It just kept getting bigger and bigger, and everybody worked together, and we got all our ideas in, and we formed it. And this is our land lab.
CURWOOD: Taking the environment to school. Also, the greening of Harlem on Living on Earth. First this news.
NUNLEY: From Living on Earth, I'm Jan Nunley. The rate of asthma in US urban areas is at an all-time high, and the American Lung Association blames indoor and outdoor air pollution. The National Center for Health Statistics says the number of people with a chronic respiratory condition has increased more than 50% since 1982. The potentially fatal disease affects children more often than adults, and is 15% higher among African Americans. The cost of asthma is also rising. The New England Journal of Medicine expects the tab for asthma-related health care and lost productivity to hit $9-1/2 billion dollars this year.
New York City's water system faces more troubles. Development around the city's upstate reservoirs has resulted in numerous Federal water quality violations, and on top of that the city is now facing a drought. Miguel Sancho reports.
SANCHO: Due to low rainfall, the city's Department of Environmental Protection is already asking New Yorkers to take shorter showers, water lawns less, and refrain from opening fire hydrants. This new natural threat to the city's water supply, combined with man-made sewage problems, has environmentalists worried. In recent years, water quality problems have forced the city to bypass its dirtier reservoirs, thus diminishing the quantity of available clean water even before the drought. Mark Eisenman is with the Natural Resources Defense Council.
EISENMAN: The last thing the system needs right now is a drought watch, when it's racing against the clock to protect the watershed from sewage and other contaminants that are threatening the quality of New York City's drinking water.
SANCHO: DEP Commissioner Marilyn Gelber says reservoirs are bypassed for aesthetic reasons such as color and taste, not because of health concerns. She claims there is no immediate shortage of clean drinking water, but if the situation does not improve by August, mandatory water rationing measures will go into effect. For Living on Earth, I'm Miguel Sancho in New York.
NUNLEY: In North Carolina, a spate of animal waste spills has prompted the governor to call for increased controls at livestock and poultry farms. A 25-million gallon spill of untreated hog waste into a river in late June was followed by a smaller spill at a second hog farm, and another at a chicken farm. Now Governor Jim Hunt wants more waste management help for farmers. He's asked the North Carolina legislature to toughen regulation of waste lagoons.
Damage from last winter's massive oil pipeline leak in the Russian Arctic probably won't reach the Arctic Ocean, but US government experts told a Senate hearing the Komi region still faces heavy losses of fish and wildlife. The accident on the Russian tundra has become part of a battle over efforts to expand oil production in the US Arctic. Rhode Island senator John Chafee, who chairs the Senate Environment Committee, says the Komi spill shows the dangers of drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. But Alaska Republican Frank Murkowski, who chairs the Senate Energy Committee, says pumping oil from the Alaska refuge would reduce dependence on what he calls "irresponsibly- developed" oil.
Disassembling defunct North Sea oil rigs could fuel Scandinavia's newest economic boom. Several salvage companies are already competing to take apart the Brant Spar, a drilling platform which Shell Oil planned to scuttle in the North Sea until Greenpeace raised a storm of international opposition. Since then, 13 European countries have agreed to a moratorium on ocean dumping of oil rigs, and that could mean big business for rig disassemblers. Norway and Britain have not agreed to the ban and will not have to observe it.
Germany's tough new waste reduction measures appear to be paying off. The government says in some areas household garbage has been cut by almost half. Dan Karpenchuk reports from Cologne.
KARPENCHUK: In its annual report released this week, Germany's Federal Environment Office says there's been a huge reduction in the volume of garbage: 40 to 50% over the past few years. Most Germans feel strongly about environmental issues, so when Bonn introduced recycling programs in the early 1990s, they were welcome. Now, most communities have fewer garbage pickups, but more for paper products, glass, plastics, and aluminum. The latest push has been for people to begin composing, recycling vegetable peels and other biodegradable items. Environment officials say the reduction is also a result of tough new laws on recycling and repackaging, forcing manufacturers to use more recyclable materials. Officials say they are also looking at how the remaining waste can be reduced even further. But the government report says there hasn't been anywhere near the same success in the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions. The main problem is the growing number of cars. For Living on Earth, I'm Dan Karpenchuk in Cologne.
NUNLEY: The Department of the Interior is thinking of removing the peregrine falcon from the Endangered Species List, and wants to know what the public thinks of the idea. The peregrine is the world's fastest bird, approaching speeds of 200 miles per hour. Just 39 nesting pairs survived the early 70s, but a ban on DDT and other steps have helped bring the population back to about 1,200 pairs. Officials are asking for input on the delisting. They're especially interested in information on the bird's range, distribution, and population size.
That's this week's Living on Earth news. I'm Jan Nunley.
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CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Nature is one of the best classrooms, but many school children are missing out. Even the richest suburban schools are often surrounded by lawns and athletic fields that attract little wildlife, and many urban kids might be lucky to see a pigeon on their asphalt schoolyards. But in Parma, Ohio, on the west side of Cleveland, teachers and children are joining together in an experiment to bring wildlife right into their daily curriculum, by turning part of their schoolyard into an artificial wetland. From Living on Earth's Midwest Bureau at WCPN in Cleveland, Robin Finesmith has our report.
(Children yelling and playing)
FINESMITH: Green Valley Elementary School is bordered by a busy, 4-lane road just off of Interstate 77 and down the street from one of Parma's strip malls. In its front yard is a sunken rectangle of lawn about the size of a softball diamond, where 2 rough gullies slope down to a small pond in one corner. This is not at first glance the best location for a wildlife habitat, but come here on a Saturday and the air is filled with the smell of fresh sod.
MALAKAR: This is going to be the sunflower garden, and we had to dig all this out. And we're going to be planting. And over there where that's all dug out is going to be the rock garden. The second grade is in charge of that, and we're in charge of the sunflowers right here.
FINESMITH: Mara Malakar is a Green Valley third grader who's come to school with her dad this weekend to help build an observation deck and clear garden plots for the school's new outdoor classroom and wetlands project. This front yard used to be barren, but now a freshly cut split-rail fence encloses the lawn, and a wildflower garden will soon border one of the gullies that drain into the recently constructed pond. Algae is starting to accumulate at the water's edge, and a pair of Canadian geese are beginning to make regular stops. Green Valley's eco-team has been meeting at lunchtime for months, planning the project under the guidance of fifth grade teacher Jeanne Goldberg. Goldberg got the idea during a workshop sponsored by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. She says what's known as a land lab gives the kids a rare chance to learn about biodiversity first hand.
GOLDBERG: That's a hard concept even for adults. The big picture of how everything is interconnected. The best way to teach kids about the big picture and learn yourself is to bring it down to smaller areas, like your back yard or this wetlands.
FINESMITH: The new pond and surrounding grassy area, together with a planned butterfly garden, will create a miniature laboratory where kids can observe and experiment for themselves. Other schools make use of outdoor labs, but principal Barbara Filipow says having this one so close makes it an integral part of a hands-on curriculum.
FILIPOW: I think that there'll be more spontaneity and more excitement because as those little things come up in the classroom, those teachable moments, we can move right out front. And you can't do that if you have to drive 5 miles away or 2 miles away.
FINESMITH: The wetlands project is meant to be as self-sustaining as possible. For instance, the sunflower garden will help feed the birds attracted to the water. The kids wanted to stock the pond with fish, too, but teacher Jeanne Goldberg says they'll try to let nature take its course instead.
GOLDBERG: We're going to wait to see if the ducks and the geese bring seeds and eggs on their bellies before we start introducing anything. We're hoping that it will happen naturally. We're not in any hurry. I think it would be best for the children to see what happens here all on its own.
STORER: Well, it's not quite going to just take its course.
FINESMITH: Jim Storer is a conservationist with the Cuyahoga County Soil and Water District who's an advisor to the Green Valley Elementary Project.
STORER: Under natural succession, if you quit mowing this lawn, everything around here generally turns into a maple beech woods, and those are really wildlife deserts as well as anything else, because you don't have diversity. But in this case they're actually planning it to have different types of habitat in it, and in order to keep that they're going to have to maintain it that way.
FINESMITH: In order to maintain that artificial diversity, Storer says, for instance, that some geese attracted to the pond will have to be kept away, since they can crowd out other wildlife and even chase after the kids. That means the students at Green Valley are learning not just about biodiversity, but about wildlife management. That's a tough and contentious concept for many adults, but students like 10-year-old Lauren Bruns don't seem to have a problem with it.
BRUNS: Well, they taught us about how the water interconnects with the flowers in the ground, and how it'll attract animals by itself, so instead of laying food out for animals and everything. And, like, it's hard to understand the conditions of them, but the teachers explain to us about how the geese are, weren't going to help this area much in particular. They needed to be in their natural area, which is more towards the south. And if they come up here for the wetlands area, it will, it will ruin their entire schedule that they have.
FINESMITH: In addition to lessons on migration and natural succession, the kids have been learning about other natural functions of wetlands, such as flood control and water filtering.
They've also been allowed to add their own ideas for the project along the way, and according to fifth grader Lauren Bruns, that's given everyone a feeling of ownership in the project.
BRUNS: I think it's very exciting to see everything happen because, I mean, we're making this happen. It was an idea. It just kept getting bigger and bigger, and everybody worked together, and we got all our ideas in, and we formed it. And this is our land lab.
FINESMITH: The project has also been chosen to serve as a model outdoor school site by Ohio's Department of Natural Resources. And while it's true that the lab is only a wildlife habitat in miniature, the birds and animals starting to make their home there are making it clear that the property is more than just a habitat for school kids. For Living on Earth, I'm Robin Finesmith in Cleveland.
(Music up and under: theme from Fame.)
CURWOOD: While Parma, Ohio, gently works its wetlands program into its elementary school curriculum, the City of New York has recently launched an entire high school devoted to study of the environment. New York has a bright history of special public high schools. Generations of smart kids found their way into science and medicine through the Bronx High School of Science. And New York's High School for the Performing Arts inspired the movie and television series Fame. Now the city is poised to graduate its first crop of seniors from its High School for Environmental Studies. And as Neil Rauch reports, the school is also the model for inner-city public education that gives kids a safe learning environment and hope for the future.
RAUCH: One of the first things principal Alex Corbluth will tell you is that this is a tough school with a full academic program.
CORBLUTH: We have the full Regents courses; we have Advanced Placement courses, so that students will come out here prepared for college no matter what.
(Many students' voices)
RAUCH: These ninth graders are learning about civic issues in environmental citizenship class. The debate in this session is on whether or not a tennis court should be built on a wetland.
GIRL: No, there's no reason why I should pay him.
BOY 1: I'll get more money if I open up a tennis court. More people will come.
BOY 2: Why don't you just buy a hotel or something, rather than...
RAUCH: Teacher Michele Ashkin has divided the students into groups of 4, where they play the parts of landowners, politicians, and mediators.
ASHKIN: Is he going to vote to protect the wetlands or not?
BOY: To protect them.
BOY: Because we don't have that many wetlands.
BOY: And we should preserve them, because they're helpful.
ASHKIN: What's the other value here that he has?
ASHKIN: Well yes, he definitely has political because he's a senator. But he just said something. What value was he talking about?
RAUCH: The environmental theme is used as a hook throughout the curriculum. Social studies classes will focus on the environmental effects of war to open a lesson on Bosnia. Literature courses will include 'Silent Spring.' And principal Corbluth says the theme is even used to teach computers and art.
CORBLUTH: We're planning to have art electives, one relating to design and planning where students develop an ecological city using models, using computers. We don't want simply little scientists coming out of here.
RAUCH: Of course, the environmental theme doesn't quite fit everywhere. So subjects like Shakespeare and gym are still taught the old fashioned way. But they are working on making math relevant. For students like Shami Dowla, the environmental focus has been a good way to learn traditional skills. She finished her sophomore year with a study on noise and teenagers.
DOWLA: I've had a lot of experience from this, because I have to do some speeches in class, which I think I needed a lot of courage to do. I did surveying, I learned how to do experiments, and I also learned how to write reports.
RAUCH: Shami is part of a diverse student body which consists of blacks, Latinos, and Asians at roughly 30% each. Whites and others make up the remainder. And internships are an integral part of their education. During the school year and the summer, students' projects may take them as far away as Alaska and Lithuania, although most stay in the city doing things like working in the Botanical Gardens in the Bronx or sampling air quality in Central Park. Jeff Cole is the internship coordinator.
COLE: They'll be doing things like controlled burnings at the Conservancy sites. Students work on restoration issues with urban parks. It's a real hands-on oriented project. We also have students working in more activist-oriented positions here in the city.
RAUCH: The school building itself reflects the values of the environmental curriculum. Located a few blocks from the Hudson River in midtown Manhattan, the building was a studio and headquarters for 20th Century Fox in the 1920s. The ornate lobby and auditorium still attest to that history. But most of the rest of that structure has been refurbished with the environment in mind. It features efficient lighting and air conditioning systems, for instance, and the roof is made from recycled tires and includes a vegetable garden. Budget realities kept the school from being a state-of-the-art environmental building, but architect Gene Nemith says that they were able to do a lot by reusing old materials and thinking creatively.
NEMITH: The ceiling, for instance, which is compressed seaweed, and if you look up you could see the little strands of seaweed in it, is much, much more durable than regular ceiling tile.
RAUCH: And those heavy ceiling tiles can't be lifted to hide drugs or weapons as sometimes happens at other schools. Fortunately, this doesn't seem to be a problem here. There are no metal detectors. There is little violence reported and there's even no graffiti. In a system where some inner city schools have high dropout and absentee rates, this high school reported a 92% attendance rate. For students like DeLaina Gumbs, it's this school's safe social environment as well as its curriculum that's been a key to her succeeding here. DeLaina is fearful of what might have happened if she had been forced to attend her Bronx neighborhood school.
GUMBS: I would be, could be dead. I wouldn't do any work, I guess. I don't know if, I mean, college wouldn't be much of a priority to me.
RAUCH: This fall, the High School for Environmental Studies will reach its capacity at 900 to 1,000 students. But its continued success is not a sure thing. This is a special public school without any special public funding, and dramatic city budget cuts have already led to the cancellation of summer classes and may mean a shortened school day in September. But the school has an active fund raising program which supports its environmental courses with money from foundations, corporations, and individuals. That's important to DeLaina Gumbs, who just completed her junior year. Over the summer she's staying in Bar Harbor, Maine, interning on a study on why sharks don't get cancer. DeLaina considers environmental studies vital to herself and the rest of the world.
GUMBS: If you don't do anything about it, like the culture we know, the history we know, everything we know that population, everything, we'd just die. I mean, since we're the stewards of the Earth, you could say, I mean, we make all these horrible decisions. I just want to have a chance to, like, rectify what we've done.
RAUCH: For Living on Earth, I'm Neil Rauch in New York.
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CURWOOD: And now it's time to hear from you, our listeners. We received an avalanche of mail about our report on proposals in Congress to help cut the deficit by drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. A few of you liked the idea, including this called.
CALLER: Hi, Living on Earth. This is Clark Milne in Fairbanks, Alaska. I believe that the Alaskan senators represent the Alaskan people, and that ANWR in that instance should be open. I personally do not believe it would decimate the wildlife population, although interestingly as a civil engineer I also believe that if it turns out politically that it can't be opened at this time, it'll just remain to be opened at some future time to the benefit of our children and grandchildren.
CURWOOD: And Garth Talbot, from Valdez, Alaska, called to say the decision to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge should be left up to the Alaskans themselves.
CALLER: I have a comment about people who live in the eastern states who think it's such a great idea to have public lands in the western states. If they think it's such a good idea, why don't they select 50% of their land and turn it over to the Federal Government, so the Federal Government can interfere in their affairs like they do in the western states? Thank you.
CURWOOD: But the vast majority of you echoed the comments of Ronald Bourque, a listener to WNYC in New York. "It is totally irresponsible to pay for our profligate waste of energy by threatening the fragile ecosystem and precious wildlife habitat of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge," Mr. Bourque wrote. "This amounts to long-term ecological damage for short-term gain. If they burn down the house to keep warm this winter, what will they do next winter?"
Clark Johnson, who listens to KNOW in Minneapolis, wrote to say that a gas tax that would bring the price of gasoline in the US in line with that of Europe and Japan would also reduce oil consumption and eliminate the need for further drilling in Alaska. And Dennis Corp, a listener to KCHO in Chico, California, wondered if the money that could be made by drilling in the refuge would have that much impact on the Federal deficit compared to other choices.
CALLER: How do revenues of $10 billion or so over 5 or 6 years stack up against $40 billion for 20 B2 bombers, a potential $80 billion for a new fighter plane from Lockheed, or $86 billion per annum in corporate welfare?
CURWOOD: Our lines are always open for your calls. Our number is 1-800-218-9988. That's 1-800-218-9988. Our e-mail address is LOE@NPR.ORG. Again, LOE@NPR.ORG. Or you can drop us a letter at Living on Earth, Box 639, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02238. That's
Living on Earth, Box 639, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02238. Transcripts and tapes are $10 each.
(Music up and under: "Take the A Train")
CURWOOD: Harlem, New York City. Fifth Avenue, Uptown. Where jazz and literature fueled the great African American cultural renaissance after World War I. Where Fidel Castro held court during his famous visit to the United Nations. And where gardens are starting what some call a green revolution. African American neighborhoods from Boston to Philadelphia to Berkeley are embracing a back-to-the-land movement which is transforming trash-filled lots into neighborhood gardens and parks. But perhaps nowhere are the people more determined to make this happen than in Harlem. Evelyn Tully Costa has our story.
(Jackhammers and traffic)
TULLY COSTA: When Bernadette Cozart looks around the asphalt, cement, brick and steel of her Harlem neighborhood, she sees green.
COZART: It is the most known black community in the world. And it should look like it. We have all these lots; we can transform all these lots like this. And not just the lots, I mean the rooftops. Put some gardens on the roof tops. Why not? We're going to do the street tree pits when we get finished. The whole place. And we don't need a lot of money to do it.
TULLY COSTA: Cozart's fearless vision to take back the land 6 years ago sparked the Greening of Harlem Coalition. Now, 29 gardens, parks, and open spaces have sprung up in Harlem's diverse neighborhoods. Cosart, a Parks Department employee, oversees all of them. Today she's watering magnificent arrays of white Queen Anne's Lace, red roses, and yellow coriopsis. They've replaced garbage, rubble, and drug dealers in a school yard on 125th street near Harlem Hospital. Cozart says each project is a unique outgrowth of the people who create them, from recovering drug addicts, pregnant teens, inmates on work release, to kindergarten classes.
COZART: To me this stuff represents the power of transformation through gardening. It gives people a hope that is desperately missing in this community. When they can see, you know, how you can make things better with a little blood, a little sweat, and practically no money. People are so disenfranchised in this community from everything, but particularly nature.
TULLY COSTA: The Five Star Block Association located at 121st Street and Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard was begun 5 years ago by Cassy Parker with a handful of neighbors. The group reclaimed 2 empty lots using dozens of school children, over 30 adults, teachers, local ministers and artists. Now there's even a gospel play about this spot. Two gardens filled with peach trees, grapes, peanuts, collard greens, tomatoes, and roses.
PARKER: I love seeing people happy. I mean, we've had such remarkable results from the senior citizens, from the young adults. People are starting to plant around trees. I see flower boxes in the window. We have some people, they don't want to plant, they just want to be here with us. And the community is coming together to talk to one another again, to work with one another again. To make something beautiful.
WOMAN: Gosh, you know it's hot out here!
TULLY COSTA: Another work in progress is the Goddess Garden at 143rd Street and St. Nicholas Avenue, created by women from all over the city. Kathleen Capila, who's new to gardening, has come to help water one of the schoolside gardens. She says many older women now living in Harlem grew up on farms in the south and the Caribbean. They're passing their knowledge on to younger people.
CAPILA: You know, there's wonderful resources up here in this community, particularly among the older people who many of them come from rural areas and have tremendous wisdom and knowledge and experience not only with plants but with the old arts of canning and preserves and making herbs, using herbs for a variety of purposes.
TULLY COSTA: One plan is to sell these canned delicacies at a local farmer's market to help support the project. The garden will also include a holistic health center. Women carpenters, masons, and plumbers will pitch in to create this Goddess Garden.
(Children yelling and playing)
TULLY COSTA: Another transformed lot is the playground at Public School 133. Bernadette Cozart and some kindergarten classes have created a tranquil spot complete with trees, lawn, roses, and a vegetable patch. Cozart says this oasis gives the children alternatives to damaging media images. She says TV and videos fill them with violent, sexist, anti-life imagery. Gardens do something else.
COZART: I find that when they're out here and they're working, for a lot of the kids this brings a very gentle side to them. Now there's something that depends on them. They must feed this and they must water this and they must clean it, and they must, you know, tend to its needs , pretty much like their parents tend to theirs. I think this makes children much more appreciative and understanding. Thank you. How are you?...
TULLY COSTA: But all these 6-year-olds understand is that they're having fun. One class of boisterous kindergarten students gathers in their green sanctuary. As this energetic kindergarten class plays around the zucchinis, tomatoes, and broccoli, one 6-year-old named Precious tells us about her pepper plant.
PRECIOUS: It's - it's growing. And it's green peppers grown from the leaves, and my name is on there. And there are flowers. And I feel nice. Oh, butterfly! Butterfly.
TULLY COSTA: And Precious runs off to chase her butterfly in the garden at Public School 133 in Harlem. For Living on Earth, I'm Evelyn Tully Costa.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: Living on Earth is produced and edited by Peter Thomson. Our staff includes Deborah Stavro, George Homsy, Kim Motylewski, Constantine Von Hoffman, Jan Nunley, and Julia Madeson. We had help from Jessika Bella Mura, David Dunlap, Liz Lempert, Susan Shepherd, and Bob Emro. Special thanks to Jane Pipik and Jeff Martini. Our engineers in the WBUR studio are Keith Shields and Mark Navin. Michael Aharon composed our theme.
Living on Earth is a project of the World Media Foundation, and is recorded with the assistance of WBUR, Boston, and Harvard University. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer.
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