If you ask a New Yorker to recommend the city’s best assets, chances are good they’ll mention a park.
A new program in Staten Island is helping middle schoolers from underserved areas of the borough access, enjoy, and learn from this asset.
The Greenbelt Venture Program, currently being piloted with exclusive support from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF), is bringing ten middle school students to the Staten Island Greenbelt each Saturday to hike, play games, and build teamwork and leadership skills. The program encourages students to encounter nature, consider their relationship to it, and, using nature education as a matrix, engage in social-emotional learning.
The Greenbelt is a sprawling conglomeration of park space and nature areas—2,800 acres total— in the central hills of Staten Island. It is managed and sustained, in collaboration with NYC Parks, by the Greenbelt Conservancy, which initiated the Venture program.
The program kits participants out with hiking boots, a backpack, whistle, compass, headlamp, and more—but more importantly provides environmental educators to guide their exploration. When the students come across a snake sunning itself near the trail or hear unfamiliar birdsong, the environmental educators turn it into a learning moment.
Preserving and finding ways for all to enjoy the city’s green spaces has been an increasing focus in New York. In addition to the grant to the Greenbelt Conservancy, SNF has also provided support in recent years for outreach and education programs at Battery Park, New York Botanic Garden, and Brooklyn Botanic Garden, as well as for a Central Park Conservancy initiative helping to ensure that every New York City neighborhood has access to quality park space.
Even as they work to preserve the city’s natural areas, New Yorkers are also called to measure what’s been lost. Artist Michael Wang’s Extinct in New York, currently exhibited at Swiss Institute and the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council Arts Center on Governor’s Island, both SNF grantees, includes plant algae, and lichen species that formerly grew wild in the city but no longer do.
But as the middle schoolers in the Greenbelt Conservancy Venture program have discovered, there’s still plenty of wild left to discover in New York City. A recent New York Times feature on the five best hikes in New York City highlights the Staten Island Greenbelt.