February 23, 2010 By Mark Gura
Photo: Using the computer and laser fabricating machinery, this GreenFab girl has turned recycled packing material into a professional looking sign that carries an environmental message. To complete this assignment, students post their work in a prominent place in the community. Photo by Mark Gura
Often described with terms like "urban blight" and "toxic environment," the Hunts Point neighborhood in New York's Bronx does, in fact, have its share of determination and positive impact.
One such example is the GreenFab educational program at Bronx Guild High School, which is designed to foster 21st-century skills in at-risk youth and prepare them for work force readiness in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM)-related fields, and primarily green collar jobs.
GreenFab evolved as a response to inner-city students' educational need for instruction that connects with them. The program draws on students' environmental and economic conditions and problems as raw material from which to create an instructional program -- and the staff doesn't see the school as a technical or a job-training institution.
"We're a college prep school that uses real-world experiences to improve academics," said Co-Director Jeff Palladino, adding that GreenFab impacts the kids because it exposes them to STEM subjects through real-world issues, he said. "They help our kids connect academic subject matter to real-life applications, experiment and create things, and solve problems that directly impact them, especially environmental justice issues."
Some students are interested in creative technology, and some are interested in the environmental work, Palladino said, but the program provides numerous opportunities that can be customized to individual needs.
"We want them to find their passions and run with them," he said. "For instance, one of my seniors hopes to follow his passion for technology and create robots that will assist people with disabilities, people like returning war veterans who have lost limbs. He wants to get into the biomedical field through this interest."
Laura Allen, president of Vision Education and Media, which heads up the GreenFab program, said she is struck by Bronx Guild High School's knowledge of what its students need -- and that its students aren't on the same footing as typical middle-class kids. "Bronx Guild really tries, in innovative ways, to piece together a high school experience that can get these kids well on the road to being productive citizens," she said.
Bronx Guild High School has a well articulated vision of learning through meaningful work, and work force preparation is a major thrust at the school.
Students participate in off-campus internships, which may represent the most meaningful portion of their educational experience, and roughly 80 Bronx Guild students participate in GreenFab internships each year.
The student interns report to GreenFab for a special curriculum that includes elements of applied science, engineering and environmental studies with a focus on understanding the urban environment, said Corbett Beder, senior director of research and development at Vision Education and Media.
Four major themes run through the curriculum:
Through hands-on projects, students learn how to work with computers, and they design and build electronic devices that address environmental needs. Projects include building working model wind turbines and solar vehicles -- things that can have direct impact on the environment. They also learn to apply things they create to help raise community consciousness about the environment and how human behavior can help or harm it.
"Many of these students are struggling to find a way to 'do' high school that's going to be beneficial for them," Beder said, noting that the program aims