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Making the Gowanus Canal Clean & Green in Brooklyn, New York – Grantee Project Spotlight

Grantee: Gowanus Canal Conservancy – Brooklyn, New York
Project Title: Gowanus Canal: Clean & Green

The Gowanus Canal is a polluted urban water way in Brooklyn, NY that is a Superfund site. To counter decades of environmental abuse, Gowanus Canal Conservancy has been working toward an “Open, Clean and Alive” Gowanus Canal and Watershed. They are moving toward this vision in part by engaging youth in the ecological history and health of the canal. The project emphasizes the positive (and negative) effects of human impact on this urban landscape through STEM-focused & place-based curriculum and hands-on environmental stewardship.

With funding from New York State, a strong team of local teachers and ecology professionals were assembled to help develop the STEM Gowanus Urban Ecology curriculum for 5-8 grade students in order to provide resources for other teachers and enhance their School Clean & Green program. This program brings students to the Salt Lot [their canal-side volunteer site] to engage in stewardship activities. With Captain Planet Foundation funding, they were able to improve methods for hands-on field work while incorporating lessons from the STEM curriculum.

Students explore practical and theoretical activities. For example, when propagating native plants – they discover how to identify native and invasive species – and what the impacts of each are on the Gowanus ecosystem. They also learn how to properly divide plants at the roots. Students love the work and getting their hands dirty. Their favorite part? “Learning the history of the Gowanus and why it is so gross;” and “[I liked] having fun while we’re helping.”

Teachers who worked with this project said: “Participating in this program exceeded my expectations! Often times partnerships result in more giving than receiving, but I felt that I received more material and inspiration than shared.” “I have gained a deeper knowledge and appreciation of the Gowanus Canal as well as broadened my knowledge in environmental and science education and instruction. I am excited to implement more of the curriculum next year and use this work in partnership with our school garden.”

Now, Gowanus Canal Conservancy is helping Gowanus Watershed schools with their own stewardship projects to improve Gowanus ecosystem health. In the future they’ll teach students how to build a rainwater harvesting system in their schoolyard!

Designing Gowanus from Lynn Shon on Vimeo.

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