BY JON CRONIN
The Metropolitan Expeditionary Learning School (MELS) in Forest Hills is partnering with the Friends of the Queensway via an afterschool program that would explore flora and fauna plans for the proposed parkland—which abuts the school’s property.
Following a donation from AT&T, the afterschool program has been “reinvigorated,” said Evan O’Connell, a global history teacher at the school who is coordinating the program with the Friends of the Queensway.
O’Connell said that he hopes to teach student research and record “authentic data collection” throughout the year via the program, which is open to 9th to 12th graders. He said that students will “learn the lay of the land and its biodiversity.”
“The information that they gather will inform the landscape architect,” said O’Connell regarding the students’ upcoming research on the topography of the area.
The program will be held after school two days per week—on Tuesday and Friday—and taught by one of the school’s biology teachers. O’Connell said that, for access, students would only have to walk a few minutes through the school’s campus on Metropolitan Avenue to the Forest Park entrance on Union Turnpike. Once there, the students will be able to study the Queensway, which is an unused former Long Island Rail Road line that ran approximately 3.5 miles south toward the Rockaways.
Students will study tree species—native and nonnative—and discuss whether it would be a good idea to plant more of the native species and cull the nonnative. Then, they will decide how that flora impacts the eco-system of the native animals.
O’Connell said that, in the past, the school has partnered with the Friends of the Queensway and hopes to do so again in the spring in collaboration with McCauley Honors College—which is part of CUNY Hunter College—for a project known as “bio blitz,” during which students would collaborate with scientists to survey the area to count local species.
“This is citizen science at its best,” said O’Connell, adding that he hopes his students will then teach this type of science to local residents and encourage the park’s development.
MELS students will present their findings in the spring.
O’Connell noted that MELS is in its eighth year and had previously worked with the Queensway project to study urban planning and design, but then shifted three years ago to an afterschool program.
“Projects like this are a good fit for us. Even though we are a public school, we have a lot of opportunity to develop our own curriculum. This is right up our alley. It’s been a nice partnership to sustain and develop,” O’Connell said.
MELS Assistant Principal Hillary Mills agreed, adding that it would provide leadership skills.
“Hands-on learning is the foundation of a more-sustainable education,” she said. “This program will provide our students with an opportunity to examine the principles of sustainability in a unique and engaging way, helping them to develop the skills they need to become the leaders that will guide our city into the future.”
Marissa Shorenstein, AT&T’s president for the East Region, said that the program would “empower [students] to not only expand their minds, but also support the natural environment in their own community.”
Reach Jon Cronin at 718-357-7400 x125, firstname.lastname@example.org or @JonathanSCronin.