NYC H2O had a busy spring and winter! We provided 216 free water ecology and engineering field trips reaching 5,728 students at 78 schools across all five boroughs.
Our programs enhance STEM learning outdoors through hands-on lessons about New York City’s reservoirs, parks, and waterfront. We serve primarily Title I & III schools, bringing our programs to NYC youth in underserved communities.
Since 2014, we have taken 30,561 students on our outdoor field trips, and reached 10,328 more students with virtual lessons. Many of those students also joined us for beach and park cleanups, where we have removed over 53,000 lbs of litter over the last six years.
STEM and Water Ecology Trips and Virtual Lessons
On our field trips students explore local reservoirs, wetlands, and beaches and have discussions based on their observations. While engaging with nature in their city, we encourage students to be stakeholders in the quality of their water and greenspaces, and grow to be stewards of our water system.
Tree Races continued to be a hit this semester! Our non-competitive game encourages students to get excited about learning about trees through observation. Observations from students came in many forms; sight, touch, hearing, and smell. This semester, one observation that stood out was how the sweet gum tree’s leaf looks like a dinosaur’s foot! It has been exciting to see students admire and examine the trees in their community, often for the first time,while learning how trees are so important for protecting our water system.
The excitement and learning didn’t stop at the tree race finish line! Students worked together during the ’Aqueduct Challenge’ to build a working aqueduct that models NYC’s water system. Once the students understand how gravity plays a role in the water system, they use their creativity and surroundings to personalize their aqueducts. For example, this semester, a group of students wrapped their aqueduct around the handrails of steps, like a water slide, to stabilize their aqueduct while pouring the water into the funnel.
Our trips are mainly run in Queens and Brooklyn at Baisley Pond, Canarsie Park, Plumb Beach, and Ridgewood Reservoir; Manhattan and the Bronx at Central Park, High Bridge Park, and Jerome Park; and Staten Island at Lemon Creek & Silver Lake. This spring we also enjoyed hosting lessons at even more sites, including Crotona Park, Franz Sigel Park, Gravesend Park, Prospect Park, and Shirley Chisholm State Park.
NYC H2O brings a passion for mapping and environmental science to NYC classrooms through our mapping education curriculum where students learn to wield geographic information systems (GIS) to research local environmental and social issues. NYC H2O educators visit partner schools in East Harlem, Washington Heights, and Bushwick to teach lessons on GIS technology and urban ecology. Students use these tools to perform hands-on research on topics such as sustainability and environmental resilience, flooding, litter, and access to green and open spaces. Throughout these projects students become ambassadors for change by participating in community cleanups, advocacy, and activism.
At Central Park East High School, 30 students used GIS and photography to survey the environmental conditions around their homes and presented their findings in StoryMaps, which are interactive online presentations. StoryMaps require students to be proficient in creating digital media and managing data. We ended the school year with a celebratory StoryMap Expo where students showed off their hard work to peers and teachers. Here are students’ examples about their neighborhoods in Harlem and Elmhurst.
Fifth graders at PS 376 used GIS to map litter and stormwater flooding in their Bushwick neighborhood, where flooding and sewer overflow is a pervasive problem. Students then crowdsourced their community to locate the “Dirtiest Corner in Bushwick” using online surveys and flyers. They disseminated the results and organized their own cleanup event focused on the crowdsourced hotspots.
Our weekly STEW (Stewardship) Crew program at WHEELS High School, in partnership with Future’s Ignite, has brought high school students into the neighborhood throughout the year to perform 18 street cleanups that removed in total over 600 lbs of trash from 182nd Street in Washington Heights. Students were trained to collect spatial data on trash locations using the GIS smartphone app Field Maps, and they used this data to identify litter problem areas in their neighborhood that require action, such as resident outreach and trash bin improvements.
Weekly after school lessons at PS 58Q and PS 24X introduced students to urban ecosystems and local wildlife, and got them acquainted with nature in their own backyards. Many of these activities blend art and spatial reasoning with nature, to support students’ creative and socioemotional learning. This semester’s projects included making name tags out of tree cookies, tracing the path of a water drop through the water cycle, sketching plants and animals in natural areas including the Ridgewood Reservoir, Pelham Bay Park and Raoul Wallenberg Forest.
Students put their skills as young naturalists into practice through many outdoor
activities. In Elmhurst Park, PS 58 students made observations of the trees and wildflowers, and drew connections to the natural environment in our upstate watersheds. These connections help students understand how nature purifies our water and our watershed maintains its superb quality.
At Riverdale Park, PS 24 students learned to use binoculars to observe birds and other city wildlife, and recorded their observations. These activities got students thinking about their environment in a holistic way, and about how parks are used by animals other than humans.
Another objective of our CASA programs is to create stewardship projects for students so that they get a sense of the work and planning that goes into taking care of these natural spaces. To that end, we planted Interrupted Ferns, Common Ladyferns, and Alleghany Monkeyflowers to enhance a native plant garden within Elmhurst Park, and teach students about the importance of protecting and expanding urban natural areas.
Grade 2 Teacher The students loved exploring and observing Lemon Creek. They especially loved the Lemon Creek Scavenger Hunt, where they had to try and find as many things as they could geared around the environment. Through all trips the students were able to take their experiences with H20 and use it in their ELA unit. My colleagues and I felt the tour guides were very kind, helpful, and knowledgeable.We cannot wait to register for next year to continue to be a part of this program.
Grade 3 Teacher Thank you so much for having us! I loved that we started out with the map and connecting our understanding to the world around us! Also, it was nice to learn about the trees surrounding the reservoir – and the different names and ways they help! The scholars had a blast, and the video is great! Thank you so much for capturing that moment.
Grade 5 Teacher The [H2O Guides] were comfortable with all kinds of students. They created a good pace, which honored student’s natural curiosity but kept it going. The hands-on tasks using the interactive map and completing the scavenger hunt kept even the most reluctant learners engaged. All of this created a respectful milieu and the students asked questions freely and listened intently. The trip taught the students to observe their environment more closely. Your educators are some of the best I have had the pleasure of working with in my 20 years of NYC Field trips!
Grade 7 Teacher Breaking the trip up into several parts: having the students hold the map, having the students move from one part of the park to another, and the ending activity made for an engaging and informative trip. The favorite part of the trip, according to the students’ reflections, was the aqueduct activity at the end. I found that activity particularly enjoyable because of the STEM aspect and the connections the students made from doing it.
Grade 10 Teacher I thought the whole experience was great. I loved the huge map that was shown to students. I also loved how our tour guide pointed out that our group was old enough to hear about issues related to eminent domain and the construction of the water system.
STEWARDSHIP AND PUBLIC PROGRAMMING
We continue to observe the positive outcomes of our ongoing stewardship at the Ridgewood Reservoir in the form of blooming pollinator gardens, returning volunteers, singing birds, healthy trees, and relatively litter-free sidewalks. Our goals for this work are to expand access to greenspace for park-goers and promote the health of natural habitat at the Reservoir where countless wild plants, birds, and other animals call home. . Already in 2023, we have hosted seven volunteer events attended by 164 total volunteers; with an average of 27 volunteers per event! Projects so far this year include litter cleanups on Vermont Place and the south Jackie Robinson service road; mulch rings for trees and shrubs in lower Highland Park and at the south hill of the Reservoir; removing honeysuckle and bittersweet vines from trees; and pulling mugwort, cleaver, crown vetch, and garlic mustard from the pollinator gardens.
NYC H2O staff also perform weekly stewardship to beautify and improve the park. We are gearing up for another summer of removing the invasive Phragmites australis from the middle basin of the reservoir, and were joined by high schoolers from Lyons Community School in Bushwick for a firsthand lesson on controlling the spread of P. australis in an urban wetland. This summer we will welcome interns from CUNY and nearby high schoolers from Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation to assist with this large project.
The Reservoir’s thriving pollinator gardens are blooming brilliantly. Several species of bees, butterflies, and moths can be observed flitting between the native plants. We support the health of these gardens by planting native species, watering them during dry spells, and regularly pulling weeds.
Staff remains vigilant in monitoring the park for vandalism and graffiti; which we promptly remove. When one of the murals on our storage container was hit by a rogue artist (who had a good sense of color theory, at least), we acted swiftly to remove the tag and re-paint our bright birds and pipes to restore the mural to its original glory.
In April, during Earth Month, we planted 20 large trees in Highland Park, including swamp white oak, American linden, serviceberry, and American elm, and will be overseeing care for these trees for the foreseeable future. Highland Park is a crucial greenspace for communities in Brooklyn and Queens and we look forward to more plantings and tree care to support the park’s health in the future.
Beach, Wetland and Neighborhood Cleanups
Between January and June of 2023, in addition to our volunteer days at the Ridgewood Reservoir, NYC H2O held 10 community cleanups at beaches, wetlands, and neighborhoods all around the city. We picked up litter at Arthur Kill Road, Lemon Creek Pier, Lemon Creek Beach, and Oakwood Beach in Staten Island; Dyre Ave in the Bronx; Baisley Pond Park in Queens; and Paerdegat Basin, Canarsie Beach, and Plumb Beach in Brooklyn. Collectively, 726 volunteers have helped us to remove over 11,015 lbs of garbage from the city’s natural areas, parks, and streets.
We also organized cleanups for two wonderful groups of students in May. Around 50 7th graders from IS 51 in Staten Island picked up 800 lbs of garbage from the shorefront at Richmond Terrace Park–a beautiful neighborhood park along Staten Island’s north shore waterfront. And in Bushwick, Council Member Sandy Nurse, Brooklyn Community Board 4, community volunteers, and teachers teamed up with class 504 at PS 376 to remove over 300 lbs of trash from the streets around their school on Harman Street.
Beyond cleanups, we have been busy supporting stewardship of public spaces across NYC:
We could also be found tabling at the Staten Island Zoo for their Let Love Bloom event; at the Staten Island Student Summit at Great Kills Park; at Willowbrook Park for the Greenbelt Nature Center’s Earth Day extravaganza; at the High Bridge’s 175th Anniversary celebration; and at Brooklyn Bridge Park for Brooklyn Boatworks’s 2023 Spirit Boat Launch.
Already in 2023, we’ve hosted 19 public education programs and walking tours, bringing New Yorkers into close contact with local ecology, history, and animal observations!
Over 500 people have attended virtual events that NYC H2O has hosted this year, on an incredible variety of topics. Recorded talks are posted on our YouTube channel:
Thank you again to all our sponsors and to all who support our work through donating, volunteering, and participating in NYC H2O programs.
This includes recognizing the following officials and foundations their contributions in creating and continuing our environmental education and stewardship mission:
We’d also like to highlight our utmost appreciation for our program partners, volunteer groups and students for their assistance in our civic environmental stewardship activities: