Nakeia Wimberly turned the Great Falls into an outdoor classroom for a dozen city students on Friday morning. She had her students conducting experiments on how rainwater infiltrates the ground and the role impervious surfaces play in urban flooding.
“We’re doing a lot of things to make them aware of how nature works,” said Wimberly (pictured). “How it works originally so that we can look at how human practices affect what’s happening in our environment.”
This was her latest environment-focused lesson. Last summer, she had students walk through a Paterson neighborhood to identify areas that had the most trash. In another lesson, students visited the Garret Mountain, put on waders, and tested acidity level of a body of water while others classified living organisms.
Wimberly’s work earned her a scholarship from Columbia Sportswear earlier in the month to attend the annual North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE) conference being hosted in Puerto Rico in October. The scholarship will cover registration fees for Wimberly and the district’s science supervisor Sarah Sterling-Laldee.
“We’re the only people in north America to get it,” said Sterling-Laldee. She said there were 134 applicants for the scholarship from both the United States and Canada. Both Wimberly and Sterling-Laldee have been working together for the past seven years teaching students about the environment.
Wimberly is a first-grade teacher at School 2. She does not specialize in science, but has been part of technology and science programs run by the district in partnership with the Taub Foundation, Paterson Education Foundation, the Victor Cruz Foundation, and the YMCA. This makes teaching about the environment special because she learns with her students. She also sees environmental education as a way to inspire young people to build a better city.
“When students become more active in the ‘place’ they are from they ultimately engage as community citizens and take ownership and pride in the places within their environment. This is particularly important in impoverished, underserved areas like Paterson, where students may be ashamed of their surroundings,” wrote Wimberly in her scholarship application. “Building pride and a sense of ownership will lead to a more committed citizenry later in life.”
Wimberly plans to attend three conferences in Puerto Rico. “As an educator, I want to learn more,” said the teacher, who has been working at the district for 15 years. “This is a great opportunity not only help the children, but also the environment.”
She hopes to bring back lessons to share with her peers and better her instruction.
Part of the award includes a $2,000 gear closet donation to School 2 from Columbia. Wimberly isn’t sure what will be inside the gear closet, but is certain it will be something great. “I’m excited to see what’s in there. I like the anticipation,” she said.
“All along, since we started doing this, it always has been to teach kids about what’s happening and help them think about how to make the world better,” said Sterling-Laldee.