Roosevelt Island, NY—Elected and school officials, students and Roosevelt Island community leaders joined together to cut the ribbon to officially announce the opening of a new green space on the roof at PS/IS 217.
Elected officials contributed up to $1.75 million to fund the project. $1 million in funding comes from Councilman Ben Kallos (D-5), who, when he first entered office, decided that voters in his district would decide how to spend up to $1 million in participatory budgeting each year.
So, starting in 2015, the Roosevelt Island community sprang into action to try to win the greatest number of votes to secure the $1 million. A number of varied groups pitched in, including the PS/IS 217 PTA, Girl Scout Troops 3001 and 3244, Roosevelt Island Garden Club, Roosevelt Island Parents’ Network, as well as Sharon Berman from the New York Public Library Roosevelt Island Branch, and community activist Christina Delfico, who is part of an organization called iDig2Learn, which advocates for children spending time and learning outdoors.
“We brought [the idea] to the School Construction Authority and SCA said it was possible, and so in 2015 and 2016—two years in a row, Roosevelt Island won $500,000 each year for a total of $1 million from my office for this project,” said Kallos.
He added, “STEM education is a vital part of shaping our future generation of leaders. I am excited to celebrate the completion of PS/IS 217’s green roof, which will provide students with the opportunity to play and learn in new ways. I look forward to seeing all that the school is able to accomplish with this space.”
Elected officials also contributing funds to the project included Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright (D-76) and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. Seawright allocated $500,000, while Brewer provided $250,000.
Seawright said, “As a member of the Assembly Education committee and a proud public-school parent and former PTA activist, it was my honor to have the opportunity to award a $500,000 for this project. We’re so proud of the commitment that PS/IS 217 has made to school improvement on five fronts to fulfill its mission: community service, educational resources, school community, school culture and importantly, sustainability.”
While Brewer noted, “This is freaking beautiful. I want to thank [community activist] Christina Delfico, who is the Manhattan Borough President representative on Roosevelt Island. She took me here two years ago, and I don’t think we could conceive that it would be this phenomenal. I have many, many roof gardens and green spaces in schools that I have supported, and they have gotten done, but nothing is like Roosevelt Island, so congratulations. I can’t wait to see the kids planting and see what comes up.”
And Representative Carolyn B. Maloney (D-12) also contributed funding. She praised the efforts of the many organizations, parents and students who helped secure the necessary funding. She noted how the Build Back Better Act that passed in the House, and now awaits negotiations in the Senate, allocates up to $550 billion in climate provisions to roll back heat-trapping emissions.
“Today is a day to say thank you to everyone who made it happen—the teachers and the students that have inspired us,” said Maloney.
Then Shelton J. Haynes, President of the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation, said today’s opening of the new green space on the roof of PS/IS 271 is a great win for Roosevelt Island. This right now is a testament of when community and government work together, great things happen. So, congratulations to all; we’re very excited about this space. For the children of Roosevelt, this is a very big win,” said Haynes.
The principal of PS/IS 217, Mandana Beckman, highlighted how the new green space will prove to be an important context to teach students about, for example, global warming. She noted that the recent United Nations’ COP26 Climate Summit in Glasgow, Scotland revealed that “if we do not start taking care of this planet, this planet will soon stop taking care of us.”
“But if we are going to prepare our next generation for what is coming, we need to do more than teach facts. We need to reach our students on an emotional level, we need to give them experiences that connects them to how nature works,” said Beckman.
She added, “This is specifically difficult to provide to children growing up in the urban environment of New York City. Hands-on gardening, planting, tending and watching the life cycle of the plants in this space will give them such an experience.”