A group of more than 60 teachers from across the U.S. were huddled around tables tackling the issue of climate change in small groups in a simulation exercise. Divided into groups representing the governments of China, India and the U.S. among others and the fossil fuel industry, the teachers were tasked with convincing their governments and negotiating with industry for a way for them to work collaboratively to reduce climate change. The exercise was part of an intensive four-day workshop at Manhattanville College in Purchase called the Children’s Environmental Literacy Foundation (CELF) Summer Institute in Education for Sustainability, which enables teachers to integrate the concepts of sustainability into their existing curricula. Exercises like these at the CELF Institute can serve as a model for teachers to use with their students when they bring sustainability education back to their own classrooms.
Founded in 2003 by Chappaqua resident Katie Ginsberg, the CELF Institute’s mission is to make Education for Sustainability (EfS) an integral part of every school’s curricula and culture. The non-profit has worked with students and teachers from kindergarten through high school and in all types of public and private schools in urban, suburban and rural settings. Since its inception, CELF has worked with more than 8,000 teachers and school leaders and more than 800,000 students from 2,800 schools.
A former advertising executive, Ginsberg never thought that she would one day lead an award-winning sustainability education non-profit. Working on consumer campaigns for global clients such as Unilever, Ginsberg had first-hand exposure to product manufacturing and the research and development process. It was motherhood that ultimately spurred her though to become a dedicated environmentalist. “Having three children, I began to really pay attention to ingredients and what I was feeding them, washing them with and putting on their skin.”
Ginsberg’s ‘aha moment’ that inspired a career change came after her son came home excited from celebrating Earth Day at Grafflin Elementary School many years ago. They had interactive sessions and he went around investigating dripping faucets.
“It was very empowering for him to see that he can make a change.” Ginsberg realized then that environmental education should be weaved into the curriculum throughout the year and starting in the formative years of kindergarten. She felt that sustainability education should be integrated into various subjects so that students could develop holistic thinking and an age-appropriate understanding of the intersection of social, economic, and ecological systems.
Ginsberg spent two years researching other environmental non-profits in other countries such as the U.K., Australia and Japan before starting CELF. The first CELF Summer Institute was held in 2005 with approximately 30 attendees. Ginsberg finds it very gratifying that the CELF Summer Institute has doubled in the number of attendees and now several teachers are coming with their administrators in groups so that they can truly embody the theme of the conference–“activating change” on a school-wide basis.
This year’s CELF Summer Institute had notable presenters such as former New York Times science reporter Andrew Revkin and Steve Kaagan of Climate Interactive, a Washington D.C.-based company that addresses climate change and related issues like energy, water, food, and disaster risk reduction.
Joseph Montouri, a CELF Institute attendee and a Social Studies teacher at Horace Greeley High School always considered himself an environmentalist. “I wanted to integrate environmental learning into my social studies teaching so I developed a public policy course at Greeley through the lens of sustainability. So much of what we do as social studies teachers is focus on the past without any connection to the present,” he commented.
Montouri is hoping to create a “sustainability house” in the newly redesigned L-building at Greeley, which is currently undergoing renovation and reconfiguration. “This would be a school within a school taught by a team of teachers emphasizing sustainability and the three Es– economy, ecology and equity.”
The concept of the “sustainability house” has been presented to faculty, students and parents and it was accepted as one of the uses of the new space. By attending the CELF Institute, Montouri felt that he was equipped with ideas about how to move the project forward.
“Our goal is to prepare these educators who are with these students five days a week for most of the year to have the skills, knowledge and tools to not only teach about sustainability but ultimately enable their students to do something about it and that the situation is not hopeless. The good news is that there’s much more interest and demand from schools for this type of learning than ever before,” explained Ginsberg.
In January of my junior year at Greeley, I realized that much to my consternation, I would have no Spanish class to take as a senior. When I explained my plight to Ms. Isabel Irizarry, who had been my Spanish teacher two years earlier, she immediately offered to help me do an independent study. While most independent study classes meet once every six or 12 days, she insisted on meeting twice a week to ensure I had frequent exposure to the language. Over the past year, the two of us have read novels, watched TV shows, and had discussions on American politics, all in Spanish. The immense number of hours she has dedicated to helping me improve my Spanish has left a lasting impression on me and further enhanced the extraordinary appreciation I have for Greeley’s outstanding teachers.
Ms. Irizarry’s incredible dedication to her students is not unusual at Greeley. For example, history teacher Robert Zambernardi is well-known for his gregarious personality and unmatched ability to make historical puns. But the most important thing he has taught me is how contagious passion for a subject can be. His enthusiasm is infectious, and he even encourages students to do historical research on their own through his “History IS” program, an independent-study class in which students spend a semester learning about a historical topic of their choice.
Mr. Zambernardi meets individually with these students every week to provide mentorship as they undertake what for most will be the largest research project of their four years in high school. When I took History IS last year to research the decline of communism, Mr. Zambernardi came to every meeting with an arsenal of obscure facts about both the subject matter and the professors whose work I was studying. During a semester when the stress of junior year was overwhelming, my weekly meetings with Mr. Zambernardi were something to which I looked forward. Mr. Zambernardi always leaves his classroom door open, just in case students feel like dropping by to say hello, ask a question about his course material, or vent about how college applications are taking over their lives.
Mr. Zambernardi and Ms. Irizarry are far from the only teachers who make their students a priority. Math teacher George Benack, for example, holds extra-help sessions before and after school every week for students who need them, and even comes prepared with brownies to encourage attendance.
Once, I found myself struggling with a concept but could not attend any of the sessions he offered that week. Determined to help me, he volunteered to meet with me individually after school, and then sat with me for a full hour until he was confident that I understood the material.
Greeley’s staff members have shown time and again that they will do anything to help the school’s students.
Student Life Coordinator Kristin Spillane, for example, worked tirelessly to create an “Ambassadors” program to give students who feel isolated the chance to socialize with older peers. The language department, hoping to give students more opportunities to listen to and speak their target languages, created a “language lab” with software designed to do just that. And, of course, there are the many teachers who act as advisors to student-run clubs.
Greeley teachers do so much more than ensure that students are prepared to ace their AP exams, though they are admittedly excellent at this too. They create a sense of community in their classrooms, and make their students understand that knowledge has no limits.
Twenty years from now, I probably won’t remember the equation for simple harmonic motion, that the 1720 South Sea Bubble helped Sir Robert Walpole come to power in Great Britain, or the details of the Brønsted–Lowry acid–base theory (OK, I may have already forgotten that last one). What I will remember are Ms. Li’s field trips to Chinatown, Mr. Metzler’s Tibetan singing bowl, and Ms. Plate’s Band-Aid collection.
When September arrives, I will be leaving Chappaqua and heading up I-95 to the place that I will call home for the next four years. Until then, I plan to soak up every last drop of knowledge that my school and community have to offer.
By Miriam Longobardi
When people imagine teachers in the summer, they would not envision someone spending six hours on a hot August day rejuvenating old desks with multiple coats of primer and write and wipe paint, yet this is exactly what Ann Marie Scalici was doing. Scalici was recently transferred to Roaring Brook fourth grade from Bell Middle School fifth grade ELA, where she and colleague Eileen Kenna (they refer to themselves as Work Wives), were named Innovative Teachers of the Year.
With adjacent classrooms, Scalici and Kenna transformed their learning environments. They spent hours after school rearranging furniture, cutting legs off old desks and bringing in items from home to create an environment to maximize student engagement and learning. Scalici said,
“Our students are nine and ten years old and they definetly need to move to learn. They are not meant to be confined by physical spaces that bind their intellectual and physical freedom.”
The following year they were awarded a grant from the Chappaqua School Foundation (CSF) for new furniture allowing students the freedom to choose seating best suited for their individual learning as well as team collaboration and student presentations.
Teaching extends far beyond the brick and mortar of a building, and Westorchard Elementary School teachers Liz Morhardt and Erin Posner turned loss into legacy. When their beloved colleague and dear friend Alison Caso Guerra passed away suddenly and tragically last February, our school community wasdevastated, but this was especially painful for the students and staff at Westorchard.
Wanting to maintain the memory of Alison’s passion for teaching and dedication to her students, Morhardt and Posner, together with Alison’s husband, Philippe, established the Alison Caso Guerra Memorial Scholarship Fund to be awarded to a Greeley senior who had her as a teacher and embodies such qualities as well-respected, hard-working and compassionate, among many criteria.
Their original goal was to award $1,000 each year for the next ten years, thus covering the classes of students who would have had her as a teacher. Last spring alone, the Go Stride for Alison event as well as a clothing boutique raised enough money to cover the next ten year’s recipients, far surpassing their original goal.
Alison’s legacy will reach far beyond the students and lives she touched personally.
In my new role as president of the Chappaqua Congress of Teachers I have had the opportunity to get to know colleagues in all schools and witness collaboration across grade levels. Leading students to investigate problems individually and problem-solve collaboratively is only part of what Horace Greeley teacher Mike DeBellis teaches in his Intro to Engineering course.
DeBellis co-teaches Technology and Design Integration classes with Kevin Kuczma and Paul Bianchi where students grow from learning introductory skills such as sewing, electronics, robotics and 3-D printing first semester, to designing their own problem using a well thought-out plan to solve second semester. Examples of their work include designing watch gears using computer-aided drafting (CAD), creating a fully automated greenhouse, and building a working model of an airplane. Robotics students learn how to code solutions a robot may encounter and investigate real-world problems that may be solved using robotics.
DeBellis, Kuczma and Bianchi work closely with middle school Technology Education teachers Chris Stasi and Bob Raguette.“They run terrific programs; the students they send us are fantastic,” DeBellis reports.
The district has made a huge commitment to this work and staff developers Zach Arnold, Josh Block and Ellen Moskowitz are spearheading the STEAM initiative. With all these moving parts working together, Chappaqua is moving full STEAM ahead!
These teachers are merely a few examples of the hundreds of outstanding and dedicated educators that define the excellence of the Chappaqua Central School District. Their passion, innovation, and commitment to children inspire me daily and I am honored to be among them.
By Deborah Notis
It is an exciting time in the Byram Hills school district as the BHPTSA, the Parent Teacher Student Association, is growing and re-branding itself. The BHPTSA is dedicated to creating a sense of community and unity for the parents, teachers, school administration and students in the Byram Hills school district. With the extremely capable Abby Woodworth at the helm, the BHPTSA will continue to foster a familiar, safe and productive environment for the children.
“I’m so proud to say that there is a renewed and reinvigorating spirit among our community as parents recognize the amazing and important programming we provide for their children and them, and they want to be a part of that,” states outgoing BHPTSA president, Lara Stangel. Stangel, who served as BHPTSA President for the past two years, oversaw approximately 14 BHPTSA Board Members, 20 Assistant Vice Presidents, and 200 class parents. This valuable group of volunteers helps to unite the Byram Hills families, the teachers and the district administrators into a cohesive community.
Throughout her tenure, Stangel spearheaded multiple groundbreaking initiatives such as revamping the school spirit-wear line, creating an Advocacy Committee, and moving the Byram Hills PTSA directory online. The effect of these programs resonated throughout the district.
The completely new school spirit-wear line, organized by Merchandising Committee Chair Hollie Levy, brought innovative ideas to make Byram Hills-wear more current. This had an even greater impact as the increased sales have helped to fund several other programs, including the Health and Safety program and the Author Book series.
The new Advocacy Committee provides parents, teachers and community members with a forum in which to gather information regarding ever-changing, state-based educational expectations like the common core, budget cuts and teacher assessments. The Advocacy Chair, Danielle Fox, took the community’s feedback to Albany during the last year, to hopefully help them to make real and effective changes in the education system.
Bringing the BHPTSA directory online was a significant accomplishment, only made possible by the hard work of long-time members, Diane Rowan, Susan Deangelos, Katie Herbert, and Deepak Thadani. The new, eco-friendly directory is available on computers, iPads, and mobile phones, giving the Byram Hills community easy access to all of this information.
Incoming BHPTSA president Woodworth is hoping to enhance the programs that Stangel implemented and to build several other programs designed to strengthen the bonds amongst community members and the school district. She is working to increase enthusiasm for the new online directory, understanding that some families still appreciate that hard copy, go-to book. Woodworth is also trying to fill the bucket of BHPTSA volunteers, creating an even stronger support network for the schools, the children, and the community. “In past years, we were begging for volunteers. This year, we plan to reach out to the community as early as possible to encourage greater involvement from the get-go.”
Coman Hill Vice President Petrie Verma stresses the importance of encouraging families with younger children to join the BHPTSA right away. “The most important thing is the children,” notes Verma, who is excited about the “recent infusion of parents with younger children getting involved with the BHPTSA.”
To that end, Woodworth is implementing several “get to know you” activities, targeting kindergarten families and families new the school district. First, she is planning a kick-off event for younger families to become acquainted with each other and the BHPTSA. This event will hopefully be held off school grounds, at a volunteer’s home, so that people can become acquainted in an informal, relaxing setting. She is hoping to have several movie nights and other school-based events to get families together, inside the schools throughout the cold winter months. And, she wants the kindergarten to host an end of the year picnic to celebrate the children’s first school year in the district. She is counting on the support of current BHPTSA volunteers to make all of this possible.
“I have an all star team of volunteers. My job is really easy because most of our volunteers have been helping the BHPTSA for years. They are the pros,” states Rob Furman, H.C. Crittenden Middle School’s Vice President. He stresses that much of the heavy lifting–the organizing, the managing, and the implementing of programs–is done behind the scenes by a skeleton of volunteers. As a result, Furman thinks that it is these “invisible” volunteers who have the greatest impact on the Byram Hills community.
While he likes to let his committee chair people run their programs on the middle school level, Furman sees his role as a facilitator for Crittenden and the entire district. “As members of the Executive Board, the Vice Presidents work for all Byram Hills schools and all budgets.” The Executive Board’s team works exceptionally well together, and Furman credits Treasurer Nanci Keltz for getting rid of bank fees for the BHPTSA and facilitating the DiCicco’s supermarket donation program, a program that gives one percent of all DiCicco’s sales directly back to the school district.
While the Executive Board works together to oversee the programs throughout the school district, one of President Woodworth’s most important responsibilities is to organize class parents in every school. Class parents play an invaluable role in the BHPTSA, acting as the link between the teachers, administration and families. Woodworth will work closely with her Vice Presidents, Toni Nieves at Byram Hills High School, Furman at H.C. Crittenden Middle School, Sharon Eder and Dana Goldman at Wampus Elementary School, and Verma at Coman Hills Elementary School, to make sure that the class parent program is running smoothly.
The class parents, vice presidents, and President Woodworth are also responsible for getting the word out about upcoming programs offered by the district. This year, the BHPTSA is proud to sponsor several programs for parents and children, and to help enhance the classroom experience. This year, parents can look forward to a seminar led by Ron Lieber, author of The Opposite of Spoiled and A Global Village Cookbook, and students will participate in activities like Halloween Window Painting, Nutrition Week, and Colonial Crafts Day. Woodworth credits the BHPTSA volunteers for their work behind the scenes to make sure that the activities run seamlessly.
Woodworth is also contemplating re-branding the BHPTSA during her tenure. In the past, the BHPTSA had a student representative on board to act as a direct liaison to the students rather than relying on their parents’ voices. However, since there has not been a student representative in several years, Woodworth thinks that it might be time to drop the “S” and become the BHPTA.
Woodworth has another vital role as a liaison with the Board of Education. A member of the Board of Education is always at the BHPTSA meeting, and the BHPTSA President works closely with the Byram Hills Superintendent, Dr. William Donohue, to update the Board of Education as a voice for the community. Both Stangel and Woodworth rave about their experiences with Donohue. “I’m so grateful and lucky to have worked collaboratively with Dr Donohue during my term. His support and guidance have been key to the BHPTSA’s success,” states a smiling Stangel.
Dr. Donohue, who meets with the BHPTSA president and officers every month, sees himself as a partner, helping them to enhance their productivity. In Donohue’s opinion, the BHPTSA “makes our schools into a community for every child. They provide ready-made channels of communication. In addition, they are important advocates for our schools, providing information to parents.” Overall, this helps to create a much tighter community.
Ultimately, Coman Hill Vice President Verma credits the incredibly close-knit community with creating a successful parent-teacher organization. And Stangel agrees, stating, “This community has a team that is exceptionally dedicated to its schools and children. I’m so proud of all we have done as a group over the last two years during my presidency.” She graciously passes the torch, offering, “I’m confident our incoming President, Abby Woodworth, who is absolutely amazing, will continue this work and strive to fulfill the mission of the National PTSA, making every child’s potential a reality by engaging and empowering families and communities to advocate for all children.”
Deborah Notis is a freelance writer and owner of gamechanger, LLC, a free referral service connecting Westchester families to highly qualified instructors.