At the New York Harbor School a River Becomes a Classroom

Since its opening in 2003, The Urban Assembly New York Harbor School has been cut off from the water in Bushwick, Brooklyn. One of the 22 small, theme-based public schools opened by Public Assembly, a non-profit group, the Harbor School opened its new facility on Governor’s Island. Last month, it opened a new location, more fitting to the schools name, which sits on the harbor in a large building that used to be a Coast Guard hospital.
In addition to providing students with a college-preparatory education, a major part of the school’s mission is to foster a new paradigm of eco-conscience stewardship. Eighty-five percent of the students attending the Harbor School are living below the poverty line, and are in low-performing school districts.
One of the school’s projects is raising oysters in the New York harbor, a species that had previously disappeared from the city’s waterways due to overfishing and pollution. Oysters are key to the hands-on curriculum, and are an indicator species of a water system’s health. Incoming freshman must swallow one, although not any of the oysters raised in the contaminated harbor.

The old building is newly outfitted with state-of-the art technologies; including a fin-fish and shellfish production lab and a marine-tech wood shop where students will build sailboats. The school will soon have a aquaponic freshwater system and an organic garden where students will be able to grow the ingredients for their own lunches.
“What’s great about this experience is that it gives a kid so many clear career pathways that he might otherwise not be exposed to,” school director Murray Fisher told the New York Times. “The oyster thing alone, it’s not just about oysters. It’s about policy, technology, permits, aquaculture. We need people to become scuba divers, boat drivers, photographers, scientists, lawyers, lawmakers, marine-policy experts.”