8th Graders Tour East Harlem Community

by Kristen Berger

While the 7th graders were at the Farm, 8th graders participated in several activism related activities. On Monday, they were led on a tour of East Harlem by Ann-Gel Palermo of Mount Sinai's Center for Community and Multicultural Affairs. Along the tour, Ann-Gel drew our attention to the disparity of look and feel between Fifth Avenue and Madison between 96th Street, where the tour began and MCS is located, and 105th Street. Along Fifth Avenue, or Museum Mile, there are cultural institutions, fancy townhouses and Central Park. Just a few blocks later, the landscape is filled with housing projects and a lack of green spaces.

Ann-Gel reinforced that "you are only as healthy as your community" and noted that public housing in East Harlem is poorly maintained and has problems with mold, effective heating/cooling, and cramped, dark places. This atmosphere creates health problems in people that live in public housing. People in public housing are also often stuck there because the price differential between rent for public housing and the next available New York City apartment is prohibitively large. And, when occupants attempt to advocate on their own behalf and contact the New York City Housing Authority to fix problems, they often get no response or a very delayed response.

At other stops on the tour, we noted the lack of places for kids to play and the high density of people living in East Harlem. The one outdoor play space that had a track and swimming pool also was between the FDR Drive and 1st Avenue, a major thoroughfare. At this park, kids are breathing in exhaust as they play.

We also discussed the designation of East Harlem as a "food desert." There were very few grocery stores with fresh food along the walk. Instead, residents were forced to shop at bodegas that advertised fried foods that were high in fat.

While many aspects of the tour focused on the negative impact of the environment on community health, Ann-Gel also noted the successes that activists have had in the neighborhood retaining and celebrating Latino culture through institutions such as El Museo del Barrio and the creation of community gardens.

WE ACT visits the MCS Fifth Floor

by Naomi and Zedrek, 7th Grade

On Friday March 1st, 2013 The Manhattan Country School’s Fifth Floor met with Ogannaya Dotson-Newman, a representative from West Harlem Environmental Action, WE ACT. WE ACT is an organization that works with people in low income communities of color that have bad health conditions to advocate for a healthier environment. WE ACT is working and fighting for environmental justice. For example, low income communities of color in Northern Manhattan have higher rates of hospitalization for childhood asthma than wealthier areas, in part because Northern Manhattan has more bus depots, waste treatment facilities, and other toxic hot spots than wealthier neighborhoods. For example, we found out that most bus depots are above 96th Street. This is because the city thinks that these ugly toxic machines don’t fit into the glamour of New York City and instead they should go in low profile neighborhoods so tourists don’t see them. She discussed what WE ACT was doing to change the situation with many poor communities in New York and what we could do if we wanted to change things in our communities as well.

Compost Workshop

by Desi Bartos
The 7th and 8th grade had a workshop focusing on composting. Lower School Teachers Aimee and Marie Tere came in and talked to us about what happens after we throw away our garbage. They taught us about how all of the stuff that we through “away” ends up in a landfill, which is a huge hole in the ground where they dump garbage. Before they put in the garbage they put in a layer of clay then they put a layer of plastic after that they put a layer of dirt and on top of that is where they dump the garbage until the landfill is filled. Once filled they want to make it seem like it was never there so they put on another layer of dirt then they lay down some seeds. Most of the time they are grass seeds so that once the grass grows the whole landfill just looks like a beautiful grassy hill. But underneath is trash that will never decompose. 

A garbage truck delivers trash to our class "landfill"
They create landfills that do not let trash decompose because when some products decompose, such as plastic, it takes thousands of years and releases harmful gasses and liquids. One gas is methane, which is bad for the ozone layer.

One way in which we can lessen the amount of trash in landfills is by composting. At the workshop we did an activity where we learned how worms have their own way of composting. Worms eat leftover food and turn it into rich vermicompost that is good for gardening. The 7-8s have a worm bin in their classroom and MCS sends all of their food scraps and paper goods out to be composted at an industrial compost center. We finished the workshop more inspired to do our part in composting what we can.  
7th Graders sort worms from rich vermicompost

MCS Upper School Students Attend Ban the Bag Conference

by Kevin Lopez, 8th grade

On Saturday, March 2nd, 10 students from MCS went to the Ban the Bag Conference held at the Hewitt School. First we watched a screening of the documentary bag it. In the documentary, a guy named Jev Berrier talked about how his journey to wanting to help the environment all started with one grocery store plastic bag that he received to carry one yogurt cup. It seemed unnecessary. He then began to see plastic bags polluting the streets, stuck in trees, and everywhere he looked. When he asked people where the garbage such as these plastic bags went, everyone said it went away. The big question was where is “away”? “Away” turned out to be places like the ocean and landfills. We learned that people use an incredible number of plastic bags every day and that they are harmful to ocean life and to humans as they occupy more and more space in landfills.

After the screening there was a panel discussion with very influential people like Jennie Romer, founder of Plastic Bag Laws; Ron Gonen, Mayor Bloomberg’s Deputy Commissioner for Recycling and Sustainability; Stiv Wilson, from the Five Gyres Institute; Eric Goldstein from the NRDC; Matie Quinn of Sims Recycling; and City Councilmember Brad Lander. They all talked about their roles in the fight to save the planet and ways to spread the word about banning or charging for single use plastic bags in New York City. Other cities around the world have banned the bag and greatly reduced the number of plastic bags used.

After the panel, we then were broken into small groups where we talked about what interested us and how we can be green at our school. We left inspired to help ban plastic bags in our neighborhood and hopefully in New York City.

Why Environmental Justice?

by Isaiah Shimkin and Tunji Williams, 8th grade

We, the 7th and 8th graders of MCS, believe that responding to climate change is imperative to our community and our world’s well being, and its impact is felt in many aspects of life and affects all people.  In responding to climate change, we have titled our project MCS Go GREEN: Get Real Environmental Equality Now, to draw attention to the importance of including all people in conversations about climate change. We have learned that low-income people of color are often left out of crucial conversations and policy decisions about the environment and as a result are disproportionately impacted by pollution. For example, there are many factories, waste disposals, and truck depots located in neighborhoods such as Harlem and the South Bronx.  As a result, there are high instances of childhood asthma and other illnesses. At this point more than ever as New York City responds to climate change it is important that all New Yorkers are included in plans for the future.

There are environmental justice activists such as WE ACT (West Harlem Environmental Action) and the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance working to create more green spaces in low-income neighborhoods as well as access to good food, more equal distribution of waste facilities, equitable public transit and clean air.  We hope as part of our project to partner with these organizations and to be leaders in greening our own community of MCS.