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Green Girl Power Is on the Rise in East New York

The Green Girls after-school program empowers female middle schoolers through STEM education to become environmental stewards for their community
Green Girls, BK Reader
Green Girl Jada. Photo courtesy Sam Schwartz, CityParks Foundation

A CityParks Foundation(CPF) after-school program is empowering East New York girls to raise their voices as environmental advocates for their local community.

Green Girls provides female students, ages 10 to 13, at the Science and Medicine Middle School with free, weekly environmentally-focused STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) education which they then apply during field trips and community service projects. Added bonus: The girls get to put their knowledge to use while working side-by-side with CityParks specialists and learning how to care for their own local ecosystems.

"The idea behind the program is that every young woman can be a scientist, be passionate and become stewards of the environment," said Sam Schwartz, a CPF instructor in East New York. "Even in an urban jungle like New York City, where they are often totally disengaged from nature."

Throughout the school year, Schwartz prepares the girls with science instruction and interactive games inside the classroom and then takes them out to for activities like identifying trees and leaves during nature walks, testing the water quality of East New York's Fresh Creek Water Preserve or researching sea level rises at the nearby water inlet.

The Green Girls after-school program empowers East New York girls to become environmental stewards through STEM education
Green Girls get to explore their local ecosystems and conduct research, go on nature walks and test the local water quality. Photo courtesy Sam Schwartz, CityParks Foundation

And while a program participant may not always start out as a stereotypical science nerd, the girls all share a sense of curiosity and adventure that prompts them to wade even in the murkiest waters — and have fun with it, as Green Girl Jada confirmed.

"I joined Green Girls because it sounded like an adventure to me," said the 7th-grader, who can see herself working in science. "I like plants. And I would like to learn more about science, maybe make it a major in college and teach kids about it."

"They want to go outside and explore their local environment," added Schwartz. "They like to go on trips, and they want to make friends in a new environment, outside of school."

The girls get to understand their local ecosystems, experience how they create positive change within their own neighborhood, find a new community and hopefully develop a love for the environment, she added.

The program goes beyond mere science instruction, explained Chrissy Word, CPF's director of education. Letting them know that their actions and voices matter is as important as equipping them with the tools for pursuing potential careers in STEM-related fields.

And it is no accident that Green Girls launched in 2002, at a time of when educators around the country began noticing the dearth of programming for girls, particularly in the sciences, she explained.

"Research has really revealed the social constructs that push girls away from the sciences and push boys towards it," said Word. "And also in classrooms, there are constructs that discourage girls from the sciences. This program was conceived as an opportunity to remove that gender pressure and allow girls to be themselves, to have their own voice without being worried about feeling like they don't add up.
Even the youngest girls need to feel like what they say matters."

The Green Girls after-school program empowers East New York girls to become environmental stewards through STEM education
Photo courtesy Sam Schwartz, CityParks Foundation

Girls can sign up at the beginning of sixth grade and continue with the program through eighth grade. After that, they have the option to stay on as peer mentors and, eventually, begin a paid internship in 10th grade.

The program is currently available in four NYC schools. In addition to East New York, Green Girls are also at work in Williamsburg, Long Island City and the Charlotte Gardens section of the Bronx. Girls who have previously been enrolled in the program can join CPF's free Green Girls Summer Institute, a five-week summer camp in Long Island City that allows them to engage in more intensive projects and fieldwork throughout the city.

The goal is, said Word, to further expand the program and bring free environmental science education to all five boroughs.

"Our organization is working in neighborhoods that traditionally don't have access to these programs," said Word. "So we're trying to make sure to bring resources into historically underserved neighborhoods and public schools that can greatly benefit from our free programs."

To learn more about CityParks' Green Girls, its programs and locations, go here