Students at Explore Middle School focused on “Explore Gives Back”, a philanthropic-based unit, throughout quarter one of the 2022-2023 school year. For the unit, students participated in various lessons and activities that focused on revitalization, conservation, and environmentalism. Students also engaged in various service/philanthropic activities that were designed to enhance their overall social and emotional well-being, including a field trip to clean up Liberty State Park. Through their volunteering experiences, students gained real-world applications and learned important life skills like leadership, team building, and problem-solving.
To prepare the 6th-grade students for the cleanup at Liberty State Park, the students in Ms. M. Norica’s class learned about the history of Liberty State Park and how the land became a sanctuary for many plants and animals. Students also learned what an ecosystem is and the importance of taking care of the environment. Through these activities, students gained an understanding of the impacts of human activity on the environment, and more specifically Liberty State Park. At the same time, students were able to give back to their community and care for their Planet Earth.
In preparation for the Liberty State Park Cleanup, Ms. Teschlog shared a presentation with her 7th and 8th-grade students. The presentation focused on the Lenape natives who first lived on the land, followed by the Industrial Revolution and the boom of factories being built in the area, the role of the Morris Canal and the Central Railroad in transporting goods, as well as the impact that these developments had on immigration via Ellis Island. Students discussed and analyzed the reasons for the decline of industry in this area after WWI, the Great Depression, and WWII as well as how the area fell into disrepair. The students learned about Morris Pesin's vital role in revitalizing the land and creating Liberty State Park as we know it today, as well as the efforts of local conservationists like Friends of Liberty State Park to maintain it. Finally, the students discussed the future of LSP in terms of the NJDEP restoration and the development of SciTech Scity. By providing this context, the students were able to understand their role in maintaining such a culturally and historically important place, as well as encourage excitement for its future.
8th-grade student, Xavier Robertson reflected on the cleanup.
“The field trip was a great way for Explore to come together as a wolfpack and help our community.”
Following that, Ms. Teschlog’s classes learned about the role of environmental engineers in the process of restoring, maintaining, and improving sites like Liberty State Park. This led to a discussion on the Shark Tank thematic unit held at Explore several years ago. Students expressed an interest in doing something similar, so we had an environmentally-themed Shark Tank competition in class. Following the steps of the Engineering Design Process that they learned earlier in the year, students identified a current environmental issue and developed either a product or a service to address it. They made their pitches to a panel of several "Sharks" in which they shared blueprints, business models, and apps/websites, as well as an advertisement, to convince them that their product or service was worth an investment. In this way, Explore students learned how they can "give back" to their community by creating awareness and developing solutions for issues that concern our environment.
Commenting on the Shark Tank projects, 7th-grade students Marley Amy and Charlee Meyer stated,
“Shark Tank allowed us to brainstorm and create a fun and useful way to give back to our community. It was a great experience!”
Although the Science department took the lead on “Explore Gives Back”, students studied and participated in other community outreach activities in several of their classes. Students in Ms. Benito’s Health class participated in Operation Gratitude’s Drop a Note program, a program that encourages students to write meaningful letters to say “Thank you” to the Military and First Responders. The students took time to put pen to paper and share their heartfelt thoughts and gratitude in these unprecedented times. These letters are uploaded to the platform where they are shared with Military and First Responders as a way to show support and appreciation for all of their hard work and dedication.
In Mr. Dunphy’s 7th grade Social Studies class students worked on the project “Around the World From Home”. The inspiration for the project came from an NPR article, “A Reminder That Nature is Strong: In Japan, a 1,000-Year-Old Cherry Tree Bloom”, written during the COVID Crisis. The premise of the article was that during the crisis many cultural and heritage sites around the world were not being visited with the frequency they once were. NPR’s story is about a cherry tree in Japan that is over 1,000 years old. This tree, often a symbol of hope and renewal for locals and tourists alike, continued to thrive and bloom despite people not being able to visit it during the lockdown. Even though people could not visit, just knowing that it was there and going strong filled people with hope. Many cultural sites around the world may not actively be important to the lifestyles of the people. However, much like the cherry tree, they do represent something in their lives. For the project, students were tasked with selecting a cultural site from the UNESCO World Heritage List that they found important or inspiring. Then, using household items, students recreated the site and developed a brochure for their recreation.
Students also included in their brochure information about the site as well as information about donating or ways to help preserve their selected site. This project helped students to gain a better understanding of the importance of cultural heritage sites as well as ways to preserve the sites and give back to the community.