New York City Schools Chancellor Meisha Ross Porter paddles around Harlem River with students from the Bronx to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Urban Waters Federal Partnership, an initiative that connects kids living in urban environments to local waterways. (Photo courtesy of the Department of Education).
Schools Chancellor Meisha Ross Porter canoed alongside about 200 public school students on the Harlem River on Tuesday in honor of the 10th anniversary of the creating of the Urban Waters Federal Partnership, a program that works to connect kids living in big cities with local waterways in order to teach them about their impact on the surrounding environment and human health.
“Our students are the next leaders of New York City, and initiatives like this will empower them with the knowledge to care for our environment and inspire responsible stewardship,” said Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter in a statement.
Bronx students from I.S. 229 Roland Patterson, I.S. X303 Leadership & Community Service, and P.S. 126 Dr. Margoir H. Dunbar paddled up the river in six 24-foot-long voyageur canoes along with seven boat captains from Wilderness Inquiry, a Minnesota-based non-profit that offers guided outdoor adventure tours, and got the chance to learn about the geography and history of the river.
Afterward, students went on land at Roberto Clemente State Park to learn about the waterway and park’s wildlife and different ecosystems by taking part in activities like water quality testing, seed planting, and learning how to tend to indigenous plants with the help of local organizations like the Harlem River Working Group, the U.S. Geological Survey, Bronx is Blooming, the New York State Parks Department and the USDA Forest Service.
Normally, Wilderness Inquiry visits over 50 cities across the country each year and typically comes to New York City twice a year for three-day-long stints in order to bring up to 1,000 public school students from the Bronx out on the water and learn about the natural resources around them.
“That playspace and hands-on learning is just a really incredible way for them to own and feel and experience these pieces of this natural wonder really close to home,” said Willy Tully, development director at Wilderness Inquiry, who added that about 80% of the kids they serve have never been out on the Harlem River before in a canoe or any other type of recreational boat. “The Harlem River is this incredible public natural resource blocks away from so many of the schools and neighborhoods where these kids live, and a lot of them haven’t been able to experience it.”
But due to the pandemic, nonprofit’s ability to travel outside of their home city of Minneapolis has been limited and Wilderness Inquiry’s visit this week—Harlem River canoe tours and park activities have been taking place since Monday and will end on Wednesday—is their first time back in the Big Apple since the pandemic hit in March of last year. And employees noticed a change in energy among students and teachers than in years past.
“The excitement and joy and engagement that we’re seeing this year is different than it was a year and a half and I think…it has a lot to do with how challenging the pandemic was for kids,” said Tully.