January 08, 2020

UFT members and their students ring in the New Year, spread green message

Author: Liza Frenette
Source: NYSUT Communications
New Years
Caption: (Photo provided by Amy Hart)

It’s not usually a good thing to “drop the ball.” But in the name of science, steadfast students and a pair of their environmentally active public school teachers did just that when they pushed the button to drop the iconic Waterford Crystal ball in Times Square on New Year’s Eve. (Watch button push at 2:15 on this video.)

When the Times Square Alliance decided to spotlight youth-led environmental activism as the theme for the big celebration, they did not have to look far for people to represent. Jared Fox and Aida Rosenbaum, both members of the United Federation of Teachers, were chosen to be on stage for an event watched around the world.

Fox teaches at Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning Schools in Upper Manhattan, and Rosenbaum teaches at Latin Bronx. Both teachers had recently won an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Award for Excellence in Teaching Science and Mathematics when they were tapped to participate in the Times Square festivities.

“It was a ton of fun… a sea of humanity,” said Fox. A small ceremony was held each hour leading up to the midnight blitz ball drop, and at 8 p.m., the science crew was interviewed by New York 1 TV station celebrity event host Jonathan Bennett.

“It was amazing. I still can’t believe it,” said Rosenbaum, who is in her 17th year in the classroom. She teaches earth science and AP environmental science.

The teachers read wishes on air that people had written on confetti relating to environmental themes, such as “I wish people would stop littering.”

Rosenbaum is clear on her big wish. “I wish the general public would have more trust and knowledge of science.” Never mind “fake news,” she said. “The whole purpose of science is to gather evidence and provide explanation.”

The group also took part in a press event a few days before the ball drop to bring more attention to environmental concerns and activism.

Fox and teacher Erick Espin, UFT, are co-team leaders of a student environmental club creating a clean air green corridor between the Washington Heights school and Highbridge Park, an area marked by abandoned buildings, barren tree pits, and a gathering place for drug addicts. Working with New York Restoration they pick up litter, remove invasive species, and plant native species and trees. They have partnered with Corner Project to provide overdose training, services and needle sweeps to help addicts and to keep the area safe for young students, Fox said. They have raised $60,000 for the projects.

Fox said his keen interest in science began as a child growing up in the Capital region where he was “always outside. His mom, Janis Fox, is a retired teacher from the East Greenbush Teachers Association.

His own impact on students comes from taking action with them, including trips to the Bronx River where they canoe, fish and take water samples. They travel to the Catskills to hike and study the watershed that provides clean water to New York City; and to study the pervasive bottled water industry, which is draining water supplies in many small towns, he said.

Rosenbaum also participates in environmental field trips with her students: to a pond for water quality analysis; to the waste water treatment plant in Yonkers; and to a materials recovery facility for an understanding of the recycling process and a look at how much waste single-use plastics produce.

The active teacher also leads an after-school urban garden club. Two of her students led their school in last fall’s youth climate march. Her students also took part in Walk for Water, carrying gallon jugs of water around a public park to generate awareness about people who have no access to drinking water. They raised $2,500 to have a well built in Kenya.

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