science fare

Experiments on Bronx school’s green roof taking students far

Bronx Design and Construction Academy ninth-graders Elton Hollingsworth (left) and Noel Cruz, both 14, stand atop the green roof with Nathaniel Wight (far right), a teacher who leads the school's science club. Photograph by Nick Pandolfo

At the beginning of the 2011-12 school year, Elton Hollingsworth and Noel Cruz, both ninth-graders at the Bronx Design and Construction Academy, joined the science club. Little did they know that a short nine months later, they’d board a plane bound for Denver as two of the youngest people to present at a leading industrial conference.

Last week, the boys explained findings from an experiment they’ve been conducting on the school’s green roof — the first of its kind in a New York City public school — at the World Renewable Energy Forum. Neither had been on an airplane before.

“We were the only high-schoolers there,” Cruz said.

“It takes a professional level of work to get through our peer review process,” says Seth Masia, director of communications for the American Solar Energy Society (ASES), which held its National Solar Conference together with the World Renewable Energy Forum this year. “We’re most impressed that the science club was able to do it.”

The events brought together thousands of engineers, architects, professors and scientists to share the latest work in solar and other renewable energies. U. S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper were among the featured speakers.

And then there were Hollingsworth and Cruz. They explained the results of their science club’s project, which was an attempt to figure out whether adding a canopy of solar panels above a roof covered in plants would further boost the already known benefits of a green roof, such as lowering the roof’s temperature and purifying run-off water. In short, they found that it did, keeping the roof up to three degrees cooler than a green roof alone would.

If the topic seems a bit esoteric for 14-year-olds, Hollingsworth doesn’t see it that way.

“It’s another subject you can use to hold a conversation,” he says. “Because it’s always good to know at least one thing about every subject. So we have definitely learned enough to have a conversation with somebody about renewable energy.”

Nathaniel Wight, a science teacher who co-founded Bronx Design, runs the science club, which focuses on researching the green roof that was installed in late 2010 with the help of a grant from the City Gardens Club and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

Students in the construction portion of the academy built all the devices and structures used on the green roof, and the students in the science club set up sensors to collect data like air temperature, which they then analyzed to learn about the roof’s environmental effects.

“They’re learning about this innovative technology, but we’re also trying to teach them the practical skills to learn how to solve real-world problems,” says Wight, who accompanied the boys on the trip to Colorado.

Hollingsworth and Cruz’s trip was welcome news amid a chaotic period at the school’s building, Alfred E. Smith Career and Technical Education High School. Two years ago, the city decided to phase out Smith’s construction academy and phase in Bronx Design to replace it. The automotive program remained, and will be joined by a nursing program next year under the city’s “turnaround” plan to overhaul Smith. Two alternative high schools — for older students who are behind on credits — now occupy the top floor of the school building.

Hollingsworth and Cruz said they were flooded with questions after their talk, and a Ph.D. student from Pennsylvania State University even emailed them about a potential collaboration. While the boys say they are happy with their accomplishments, they have their eyes set on securing a grant to make the school’s entire roof green.

Hollingsworth said he had a conversation with someone from ASES about possibly funding their project.

“They told us, ‘Name a price,’ ” Hollingsworth says. “I said $50,000 to $100,000 is what we’d need to do all of this. He looked up at me like, ‘Wow, that’s a lot of money.’ I had to kind of play it off like, ‘It’s not that much.’ ”

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, nonpartisan education-news outlet based at Teachers College, Columbia University.

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.