Since 2020, the American Littoral Society has been a key partner working with the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), New York City Schools and other partners on the Resilient Schools Consortium (RiSC) program.
Recently, a short documentary about that work was shown at New York University. The screening was followed by a panel discussion on teaching children about climate change and the ecology of Coney Island Creek. The panel included Alexandra Kanonik, our Jamaica Bay Program Director.
The film, titled "Where it Floods: Planting Hope in Coney Island," follows the journey of students from seven NYC middle and high schools as they learn about climate science, climate impacts and the natural and built solutions that increase climate resiliency in Coney Island. The film itself is narrated by one of these students who is now getting ready to graduate and looking to enter the field of climate science and advocacy.
“We’re very excited to share this film which showcases the impact that climate education programs like RiSC can have in our schools and frontline communities,” said Emily Fano, senior program manager for the consortium and one of the film’s co-producers. “Students and educators need resources to help them understand how the climate crisis is impacting their neighborhoods now, how it will impact them in the future, and how they can mitigate those impacts locally.”
The RiSC program was launched in 2017 in six New York City public schools. The program, which has been funded by multiple sources over the years, and began with Brooklyn College partnerships involving SRIJB- the school’s science and resiliency institute.
Funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration began in 2020 and allowed NWF to expand the program through partnerships with organizations like the Littoral Society, while also focusing the RiSC program and curriculum on Coney Island Creek in Brooklyn. That section of New York City is still experiencing economic impacts from Hurricane Sandy in 2012.The Coney Island Beautification Project has been a key partner in facilitating the connection to the local community to the work this funding allowed the RiSC program to undertake.
In March of 2020, NWF staff and partners were planning boat excursions and dune plantings with students at local beaches. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and everything changed: Families were hit hard as jobs and lives were lost.
After consulting with teachers and partners about their personal health and morale, and that of their students and families, a new plan was developed that involved the NWF pivoting to provide virtual field trip experiences to replace planned in-person activities.
Through a mix of in-person and pre-recorded videos from American Littoral Society, students “visited” Jamaica Bay’s marshes, “witnessed” dune grass planting at a local beach, and “attended” a backyard garden tour. They also revisited heat equity with Trees New York.
The program continued after lockdown ended, finally allowing students to come and experience the beautiful coastline of Coney Island Creek in person. The visit allowed them to personally see how increasingly frequent and intense coastal storms would impact the area, while also learning how flooding, sea level rise, and erosion were making their homes vulnerable and destroying coastal habitats. That knowledge provided insight on what they could do to help create more climate resilient communities.
Earlier this year, the program brought middle and high school students from three NYC schools to Coney Island Creek Park to learn how natural features dubbed “green infrastructure” (living shorelines, dunes and marshes) can help protect seaside communities from the type of storm surge and flooding Hurricane Sandy brought to the area in 2012.
The young people spent several days planting thousands of culms of American beach grass along the dunes in Coney Island Creek Park in what has become an annual effort to teach students about climate change resiliency, environmental justice and environmental stewardship. That excursion became the basis for the recent documentary.
Over the course of our partnership with the RiSC program, the Littoral Society has helped students plant more than 20,000 culms of beach grass on these dunes. We planted 15,000 this past Spring with students in partnership with NYC Parks.
The documentary also highlighted a community open house in June 2023 that focused on: “Coney Island: Past, Present, and Future.” During that event students shared what they learned over the course of the school year and participates in activities that were being filmed for a documentary sequel about the program. Community partner, Coney Island Beautification Project, co-hosted the event and RiSC educational partners, New York Sea Grant and American Littoral Society, helped to lead activities.
The RiSC program is a collaboration between the National Wildlife Federation, the Coney Island Beautification Project, the American Littoral Society, New York Sea Grant, advisors at the Science and Resilience Institute at Jamaica Bay in Brooklyn College, Coney Island residents and seven NYC Department of Education middle and high schools. The mission of the program is to teach New York City middle and high school students and teachers about climate resilience, climate science, climate justice and community-led solutions.
The RiSC program has filled a critical gap in helping to address the need for climate education in NewYork schools. Currently there is no legislation in NY State that mandates climate education to be taught in public schools, which is in stark contrast to NJ where climate curriculum has been mandated to the education system,