Brooklyn College Helps Establish National Parks of New York Harbor Education Center
New Facility, Located in a Former Military Base on Staten Island, Opens October 19


Battery Weed overlooking the Narrows at Fort Wadsworth

Without the harbor, there would be no New York City. The source of the city’s historical and commercial power lies in its placement at the intersection of a great river, an ocean, and a tidal estuary. The National Parks of New York Harbor Education Center, which will hold grand opening ceremonies on Tuesday, October 19, at 10 a.m., will introduce young people to the world of the harbor—its ecology, commercial use, and history. Representatives from the Parks Service, prominent city officials, and faculty and administrators from the center’s CUNY partners, Brooklyn College and the College of Staten Island, will be on hand to formally open the center.

Situated in the roomy third floor of a converted army barracks in historic Fort Wadsworth, located at the Staten Island anchorage of the Verrazano-Narrrows Bridge , the National Parks of New York Harbor Education Center has been in the works since 1997. Newly renovated at a cost of $2.5 million, the 20,000 square foot facility will serve as an educational resource for all ages, designed to stimulate inquiry and challenge participants to become involved in the protection of the harbor. The Center will also acquaint visitors with the National Parks in New York Harbor, which include the Statue of Liberty National Monument, the Ellis Island Immigration Museum, and the Gateway National Recreation Area—more than 26,000 acres of natural wonder, including the nation’s oldest lighthouse in Sandy Hook, N.J., and the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, one of the largest bird sanctuaries in the Northeast.

Once the U.S. Chaplains School (1974-1979), this building is now home to the National Parks of New York Harbor Education Center

A major component of the center is the National Parks Adventure Room, an interactive exhibit that introduces students to the 388 parks overseen by the U.S. Department of the Interior. The National Park Service oversees more than 80 million acres, which include parks in every state but Delaware ranging in size from the 0.02 acre Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial in Philadelphia to the massive 13,200,000 acres of the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve in Alaska. More than 20,000 people work in these parks, preserving and enhancing the national resources that receive over 285 million visits a year. The exhibit introduces students to the legacy of President Theodore Roosevelt, naturalist John Muir, and other early conservationists who protected our natural and historic legacies for the generations to come. Guests may also “visit” with rangers at other national parks through on-line video hookups.

A workshop exhibit entitled Sentinels of Our Shores, designed for fourth graders, explains the principles of coastal defense through interactive exhibits. Set in a room dominated by a copy of an 1812 cannon and surrounded by a replica of a fort’s parapet, the exhibit guides students to discover how New Yorkers defended our shores against an enemy invasion. By experimenting with small air cannons that shoot plastic cannonballs, students learn about artillery trajectory and how to place guns to best protect waterways. Brooklyn College student Tamar Cohen's extensive survey of the stone building materials used in Fort Wadsworth gives tangible evidence of the intriguing story of the early quarrying industry in New York. Visitors may test materials to see which type of stone makes the strongest forts and determine the best fort designs.

The marine ecology workshop room examines the natural history of the harbor, and the effects of waves, erosion, and storms on the shoreline. Exhibits include baby horseshoe crabs, bred in the Brooklyn College’s Aquatic Resource and Environmental Assessment Center (AREAC), and other specimens from the harbor environment. Students will examine the mystery of the receding wetlands in the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Reserve and look at the impact humans have had on the area’s wildlife. The workshop will also features the research that is currently taking place in the New York harbor parks.

National Parks System Adventures Room

A classroom devoted to another important aspect of the port of New York, its role in welcoming the immigrants from other countries, is aimed at eighth-grade students, who will listen to immigrants' stories of leaving home and assimilating into a new land and culture, and then interpret and reenact the stories, using costumes and props.

Students will be able to gauge their recycling knowledge while enjoying their lunch in a special cafeteria. Lively graphics on each lunchroom table provide a maze of choices that lead students to a better understanding of issues in sustainability. A colorful recycling and trash station gives visitors the opportunity to see firsthand how their choices can make a difference. The station illustrates the benefits of making smart decisions about products that are less packaged and/or are recyclable. This is reinforced by asking children to separate recyclable materials from their finished lunches, then weigh and record their trash load so that school groups' total trash weights can be compared in an on-going competition.

Trashcans with a message

Finally, the center is a few hundred feet away from the landmark fortifications of Fort Wadsworth, the same place where, each November, runners for the New York Marathon assemble before the race. The Civil War-era fortifications, set high on a hill, overlook the entire harbor and afford breathtaking views of the large ships hauling cargo in and out of the New York's busy port.

The center is available for school trips. A resource room contains a reference library and a center where teachers and other professionals can learn about the harbor and develop innovative programs, teaching materials, and activities focused on New York’s harbor. Dean Deborah Shanley of Brooklyn College’s School of Education and Eleanor Miele, co-director of the Center’s university partnership, will collaborate with NPS in exhibit and curriculum development and research, as well as organizing internship opportunities for students and professional development opportunities for NPS staff. Brooklyn College will continue to encourage collaboration in research and teaching, as well as organizing internship opportunities for students in education and service learning courses. Most importantly, faculty at Brooklyn College will work directly with the staff to define the center's initial projects and priorities and help secure additional outside funding.

 

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