For nearly 25 years, the Randall’s Island Park Alliance (RIPA) has worked to restore, maintain and develop programming along the Randall’s Island waterfront. The Park’s 20 acres of restored natural areas, ten acres of wetlands and nearly five miles of scenic waterfront offer a unique opportunity for families, community organizations and groups of schoolchildren to explore and learn from the natural world.
RIPA’s Waterfront Stewardship Program was created to take advantage of this unique resource for local engagement and environmental education. RIPA’s experienced Natural Areas Manager and Crew guide RIPA in providing extensive volunteer opportunities, public events, guided tours, research partnerships and educational programming for local public schools – enabling RIPA to responsibly care for the Island’s shoreline while forming strong relationships with a range of local stewards.
In partnership with local public schools, the Waterfront Stewardship Program offers free hands-on STEM education to students. Our courses are taught at the appropriate grade level with our fully aligned curriculum.
Salt Marsh Exploration
Students learn the coastal history of NYC, Long Island Sound, and Randall’s Island Park, gain unprecedented access to our restored salt marshes, and explore plants and animals that make up one of the most productive ecosystems in the world. The trip introduces wetland ecology, showcases a wide range of fish, crabs, insects and flowers, and offers an overview of how salt marshes are connected to the broader environment.
Through guided exploration of our emergent freshwater wetland, students learn the history of NYC and Randall’s Island Park and what it means to restore the environment. They discover, observe and learn from the many important marsh plants that clean the Island’s water and the birds, insects and snakes which make their homes in the wetland.
It’s Buzzy Worthy: The Secret Life of Insects
Insects are everywhere in the wetlands. While insects can be defined as organisms with three pairs of legs and three body regions – head, thorax, and abdomen – they possess unique and interesting life histories. In this course students will explore, inside and outside the classroom, the life cycle, anatomy, and adaptations of insects found in and around the wetlands at Randall’s Island. Using magnifying glasses, butterfly nets, and terrariums students will get an up-close look at insects.
They fly, they dive, they swim, and they sing! Birds are abundant at Randall’s Island all year long. Despite being located in one of the largest cities on the planet, Randall’s Island Park is home to variety of waterfowl, songbirds, raptors, and wading birds. Check the wetlands for herons, egrets, and ducks. Look over Icahn Stadium for soaring hawks. Search the freshwater wetland in the fall and spring for migratory warblers and sparrows. Learn all about bird anatomy, their adaptations to survival, and their unique life histories. Students will learn how to use binoculars and scopes to view birds in their natural habitat.
The World’s Your Oyster
The Randall’s Island Oyster Garden Program is a partnership program with NY/NJ Baykeeper. In 2011, Randall’s Island obtained a cage of 500 native juvenile Eastern Oysters from Baykeeper, which we placed in the East River adjacent to the wetlands. These animals were once abundant in the NY/NJ Harbor Estuary and western Long Island Sound but, due to years of overharvesting and pollution, they have all been eliminated. Oysters provide key ecological benefits to our wetlands and waterways, and we are working hard to restore oysters to their natural habitat. This program will allow students not only to learn about oyster biology and their importance in our aquatic ecosystem, but also to collect important scientific data on their growth and development; they will use magnifying glasses, microscopes, rulers, and calipers to analyze and collect data on oysters and other reef inhabitants. Students will also make observations about the oysters in order to complete writing and drawing activities.
Water is What Matters
Water connects us all. Water is constantly moving in, around, and through the Earth in various forms. It’s found in our oceans, rivers, lakes, and ponds, falling from the sky as rain drops or snow, and flowing out of our faucets in our kitchen sink. People and wildlife all over the planet require clean water to live and thrive. Unfortunately, over the last century, human activities related to different land uses and land management have severely deteriorated water quality. But where does water come from? Where is going? What is a watershed? And are our NYC waterways, including the Harlem River, East River and Long Island Sound, clean and healthy? Through in class and field activities we will answer these and other questions in this course.
High School: Water Quality
Geographically speaking, New York City is a unique and dynamic area, most strikingly because of its situation at the confluence of a large and complex estuarine system. Unfortunately, these waters carry with them a host of pollutants which adversely affect aquatic creatures and humans alike. This course takes a three-tiered approach to the study of water pollution and its impacts. It begins at the molecular level with analysis of the pollutants themselves– students will have a hands-on opportunity to test the concentrations of these substances from water samples. Then the course will work upwards to the organismal level, where students will measure the health of an oyster garden, as oysters are key in maintaining water cleanliness. Finally, these will be incorporated into the scale of the ecosystem as a whole: students will get the opportunity to collect aquatic fauna in a biodiversity survey, to further explore the greater implications of pollution. Students will be gaining hands-on, professional experience with field work in the natural sciences, drawing connections to their own lives through natural and human-influenced processes. They will be able to see ecology in action and how organisms and the environment interact in front of their very eyes.
High School: Salt Marsh
Because of Randall’s Island’s location at the center of two major watershed systems, the salt marsh here is ideal for exploring the intricate connections that make up such a variable ecosystem. In this course, students will have the opportunity to explore the salt-marsh ecosystem literally from the ground up, delving into the influences of abiotic factors such as water and sediment on the living organisms they will get to see and touch. They will have a chance to put on wader boots and comb the water column with nets, use a plankton net to get a better look at the cornerstone to the marine food web, and filter sediments for small infaunal creatures. They will also be able to gain familiarity with the use of scientific tools in the field, such as microscopes and dichotomous keys. Topics covered include water quality, biotic vs abiotic elements, energy flow in the environment, and plant biochemistry, to name a few. Students will be gaining hands-on, professional experience with field work in the natural sciences, drawing connections to their own lives through natural and human-influenced processes.
“The … Program is one of the strongest environmental education programs I have encountered. The students benefit from hands on activities and a knowledgeable staff. They have gained a truly wonderful experience!”
PS 87, 5th Grade Teacher
“Our class is currently studying invertebrates, and the Wetlands Program complimented our class curriculum beautifully. I think my students enjoyed seeing a different part of Randall’s Island. We visited the fields many times, but they saw a whole other aspect. Also, my students love animals, so they really enjoyed seeing the actual animals that live in this habitat….”
Central Park East 2, 1st Grade Teacher
“My favorite part was when we got to see the fiddler crabs because it was so amazing when we learned that the bigger claw meant it was a boy and when it has the smaller claw it was a girl.”
PS 184, 2nd Grade Student
“My favorite animal in the wetland is the egret because it was so tall it had a long neck and legs.”
PS49x, 4th Grade Student
“Wetlands are important because they are the home to a lot of animals and plants.”
PS 87, 4th Grade Student
“Our students had an absolute blast and many kids who are in different science classes came up to me today asking when they would get to go – that’s how highly the students spoke of their experience! For a group who don’t think it’s “cool” to act excited about something school-related, they have been so vocal about what a wonderful time they had and how much they learned.”
Broome St. Academy, 9th Grade Teacher