Mauricio Gonzalez studied Marine Biology in Colombia South America and worked on coral reef community ecology for 3 years before becoming a teacher in the NYC public school system. Because of his background, he understood the vital role of applied research in conservation. However, he’s also come to understand that research performed within the confines of exclusive institutions is limited in what it can accomplish. Therefore, to address the problems of environmental degradation he sought to expose underrepresented youth to STEM programs that he has created such the Schwartz Science and Urban Ecology programs in Harlem and the Marine Biology Research and Harbor SEALS programs on Governors Island. His programs have aimed to support and develop youth’s curiosity in the natural sciences through project formulation, management, and execution. By directly including our youth in the research process, science and it’s applications will have a far wider reach and make more meaningful contributions to our planet and, thus, to society.
Greetings MBRP PAC, colleagues, family, and friends,
Happy start of the summer! What a year! In my 20+ years of teaching I have not felt as much joy and satisfaction teaching as I did this year. Sure, the year had its challenges but on the whole it was a good year with many successes and a wonderful group of scholars! This year they were my heroines and heroes!
General: This last school year was a transition year back to in-person learning and adjusting to the fall-out of COVID. Our scholars needed a little extra support dealing with academics and adjusting to a new social/global context. (So did we, the adults, if I’m being honest.) The latter had on the balance a positive outcome, whereas the former was more of a challenge. Although students were eager to return and learn, I noticed that some of our seniors struggled with the more intense parts of the research process. Extra time was needed for most assignments that involved producing reports and analyzing data. Despite these obstacles, most of our scholars were able to complete their final projects and the ones who didn’t still put up a good fight to get to the finish line!
Engaging Students in Learning: We were able to accomplish this by scaffolding the research process carefully. This involved breaking up the research process into various stages that students would perform. The initial phases of research included: learning sampling techniques and writing down procedures before doing field work; compiling field data and digitizing them; looking at the data and beginning to ask questions about patterns they observed; performing a literature review and reading background information; starting to put together a presentation of their literature review; and then processing the data to graph. The next phase involved assessing the scholars’ work thus far: students were evaluated using assessment in instruction from three research rubrics borrowed from SUNY Albany’s UHS Research Program and the New York Science and Engineering Fair; they also peer reviewed numerous times in order to assess themselves and improve their performance; they could then refine their presentations and add new elements to their research based on the feedback from these numerous, varied and rigorous assessments. The final stage involved project results: after another peer reviewed session, students proceeded to add analyses and conclusions to their work, and then defend their projects before their peers and the instructor. This scaffolding process allowed for them to take intellectual risks as evidenced by the numerous and unique questions that were asked based off of our data set. In spite of using the same data set, working interdependently, and investigating a single research topic, no two students had the same project! Never in my entire teaching career have I seen students better prepared or more confident to present as they were this year. The high level of respect and rapport we had with each other, and the degree of accountability we held each other to, created the atmosphere needed to stand in front of an audience and speak impactfully for 5 -15 minutes. The peer review process also helped generate trust for each other (i.e. we always started our feedback celebrating a positive quality and then moved on to constructive criticism). Lastly, my questioning and discussion techniques help students dig deeper into their research while also creating an environment of exploration and excellence. My best classes are those in which students are challenging each other based on the same questioning and discussion techniques which they learned during class. I would have to say that despite the challenges of returning to in-person learning after a year and a half, and continued COVID disruptions, this was one of my most highly effective years as a teacher!
Senior accomplishments: 100% of our seniors passed the written final exam; over 1000 hours of internship hours were worked for the Hudson River Foundation – a school CTE high for the year; 14 of our 20 seniors received the CTE endorsement on their diploma; and many of our seniors received college credit in natural resources management, oceanography, and research. This year’s valedictorian and salutatorian were from our program as has mostly been the case for the last several years. Below I share their presentations and publicly available data on plankton, microplastics, oyster restoration, and Randall’s Island fish monitoring:
Junior accomplishments: Our juniors had a really busy year. From managing two major plankton-microplastics excursions aboard the Indy 7 to maintaining 6 major recirculating aquaculture systems, to managing and digitizing data, getting certified in lab and chemical safety, interning for the Hudson River Foundation, and perfecting their job seeking skills with a mock interview and resume building sessions offered by our wonderful parents Koko and Nan Richardson, they didn’t skip a beat. Below I share their culminating projects:
Sophomore accomplishments: Our sophomores were able to complete much-needed Social Emotional Learning modules on EverFi, an online education company that we’ve partnered with for several years now. Next, they were able to sample plankton and microplastics using the Beta-bottle and Sedgewick-Rafter Cell technique. After that, they learned data management and processing techniques while beginning to formulate an interdependent project. In between this step and presenting their projects using the MBRP’s proven Project Management process, they were able to begin training and sampling for physical-chemical properties of the NY Harbor.
SEALs after school program: Our SEALs scholars were very high-achieving this year. They successfully completed their project to recover marine debris from the rip rap surrounding Governors Island. They also updated project stakeholders using social media; submitted project updates to our sponsor, ConEdison; uploaded their data to this website to make it publicly available; completed a final report of their findings; and submitted a new grant proposal for next year. Lastly, we created an exhibit with some of the debris we recovered which you can find outside of the school building by the lab. We’ll be working with NYU to further build out the exhibit in September. In case you’ve gotten this far in this blog post, you’d also be interested to know that the SEALs were almost 100% student led this year! I’m so proud of these scholar interns, I wish you could’ve been there to see their work. But happily they were showcased in a documentary and a newspaper article which you can view below.
Changes: As you may have noticed, we didn’t run a large marine science symposium this year. Instead, we had a smaller in class symposium where students presented their projects to each other and practiced those critical public speaking skills. The reasons for the change were 01) our students struggled with their academic and social emotional needs so taking off a layer of stress was crucial, and 02) we don’t have the necessary school supports in place to run it effectively without burnout on my part. We’re in the process of trying to get support from other science teachers or propose running a CTE-wide exposition to replace the symposium. Secondly, we didn’t offer college credit in science research this year. With too many students on the roster and a wide array of abilities & needs, something had to give. Unfortunately it was the independent research I so dearly love to do. However, as you may have gathered from the above descriptions, we’ve transitioned to interdependent projects. We’re now focusing on 3 topics by grade: physical-chemical analysis of the Harbor for 10th graders, plankton/microplastics monitoring for 11th graders; and biodiversity on settlement plates, traps, and benthic grab studies for our 12th graders. Once we collect our data, students in groups can ask questions about them and build out a project interdependently. This model has proven very successful this year!
Next steps: We’ll be applying for State re-certification in June 2023. We’ll be calling together a PAC meeting in January 2023 to discuss curriculum and internships. We’ll also be reaching out to some of you to renew articulation agreements. Please stay tuned for that important ask!
Growing and Developing Professionally: I have obtained an administrator’s license and plan in the future to move into a leadership role. Although exciting, I’m taking baby steps in order to balance out my health needs and this potential opportunity. The lead-up to this was a two-year post master’s degree in school and district leadership. My final project on workplace bullying was published in a peer-reviewed education journal and can be found below. It was only one of four papers published from the whole graduating class. Next, I was able to partner up with Rob Markuske to pull together a work group composed of students and staff to begin creating a vision for a future partnership between NYHS and the game-changing Center for Climate Solutions scheduled to open on Governors Island in the near future.
Thank you to our leader scholars for all their support with all aspects of the program! Aelish Mullaney, Marifer Sanchez-Gaspar, Maddie Novatt, Nick Pabotoy, Nick Dilella, Giovanni Nunez, Anna Sheehan, Jaylen Boyce, Julia Purrazzella, Sebastian Koko, Arlo Kane, Isaac Castillo, Nino Mazzola, Sara Guevara and the dozens of others in the MBRP. You’ve made this school year a wonderful one! Thank you to the parents, especially Koko and Nan Richardson, for their tireless support. Thank you to all the NYHS and MBRP parents for your donations, lab support, and words of encouragement throughout the year. Thank you to our internship partner, Jim Lodge from the Hudson River Foundation. Thank you to the office of Post-Secondary Readiness, Omari Gay, Florence Dennis, and the rest of the crew. Thank you to our many industry & post-secondary partners, and sponsor organizations who supported us this year: Marisa DeDominicis, Karen Holmberg, Rachael Miller, Joshua Crespo, Matthew Haiken, Zofia Baumann, Jackie Wu, Helene Hetrick, Mollie McGinnis, Melanie Smith, David Park, Billion Oyster Project, Con Edison, EverFi, Compliance Solutions, NOCTI, Earth Matter, Rozalia Project, Governors Island Trust, Hudson River Foundation, Randall’s Island Park Alliance, ESRI, SUNY Stony Brook, Bronx Community College, Borough of Manhattan Community College, Manhattan College, Roger Williams University, UCONN, LES Ecology Center, NYC Department of Education – New York Harbor School, and all our PAC members. And last but not least, thank you to my wife and family for all your support.
The Harbor SEALs have been hard at work this season recovering marine debris from the rip rap surrounding Governor’s Island, NYC for the Hudson River Foundation. Student interns and volunteers from the New York Harbor School have been managing this project since September of 2021. The team is broken up into four work groups 01) Data Analysis, 02) Resource Recovery, 03) Communications, and 04) Water Quality. The team submitted a proposal to ConEdison and were awarded a grant to purchase the equipment necessary to safely scale the rip rap and recover NYC’s pervasive debris. Large garbage bags full of plastic bottles, boat line, dock Styrofoam, sports balls of all types, and mini alcohol bottles dot and span the rip rap. But by far the most interesting of findings have been a message in a bottle and a glamping tent.
After spending much of the Fall planning and writing the proposal, ordering materials, testing the safety equipment, and undergoing practicing trials, the SEALs began recovering debris in January. The Data Analysis group began defining categories of debris, creating data tables, and online forms. They then proceeded to classify the debris collected each sample day and weigh them by category. The Recovery team worked to perfect the methods for safely removing debris from underneath the rip rap and collected three geographically located quadrants to be able to determine the rate of debris replacement. Our communications team designed social media interfaces to disseminate our work products and reached out to our various stakeholders to coordinate field days. They also were in charge of writing the summary grant reports to ConEdison. Our Water Quality team began training in the measurement of Dissolved Oxygen in the sample site using the Modified Winkler Method. They also measured nutrients and other physical-chemical parameters. Finally, they began testing a drone with 3D deigned sampling devices to collect water samples from the Estuary.
View an article of them in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle here.
Million thanks to our partners and sponsors: Billion Oyster Project, Rozalia Project, Con Edison, Earth Matter, Governors Island Trust, Hudson River Foundation, LES Ecology Center, & NYC Department of Education – New York Harbor School.
I wanted to give you a brief update on what the MBRP is up to.
It is with great pleasure that I announce to you that 100% of our seniors have passed the summative CTE assessment for the MarineBiologyResearchProgram. The assessment is called Natural Resources systems and is provided by the testing company NOCTI. Most students also scored high enough to earn 3 college credits. Our seniors are currently processing their plankton/plastic data from our excursion in the Fall. They have also deployed biodiversity monitoring contraptions in the Buttermilk Channel called “Mo Pots.”
Last month our 11th grade scholars completed a session of mock interviews coordinated by our wonderful PTA CTE Reps, Koko and Nan. Thank you to all the parents that got involved! The 11th grade scholars are processing their plankton/plastics data while maintaining their recirculating aquaculture systems. Next, they will be ordering new organisms, getting certified in lab and chemical safety, and performing another plankton/plastics field sampling excursion.
Our 10th grade scholars have been steadily working on their projects as well as courses in career and financial management. They are writing lab reports and preparing a presentation for the end of the month. After this, we will begin sampling the Estuary once again for physical-chemical parameters using various instruments including YSI handheld meters. COVID has forced us to make many curriculum changes, but I can assure you that your children are getting a world-class science education with us and I look forward to a strong finish to our school year.
Lastly, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by many of my alumni coming to visit this year. We had Grace Carter, George Desjarlais, Dylan Hom Constable, Marcus Charles, Tyler Scott-Simpson, Cyd Bloomfield, Sunita Pearson, Jacqueline Obermayer, and Nicholas Ring stop by at the lab. We’ve had many alumni graduating from college as well as many others itching to visit after the long COVID hiatus. Much teacher care to all my alumni out there in the world – far and wide!
above: Sophomores doing a last minute check before boarding at Pier 101
above: Sophomores sailing out to the data/specimen collection point
Marine Bio Junior Sebi Koko explains, “In the picture above you can see the sophomore students lowering beta bottles into the water, which are cylinders that sink to the depth you want in order to collect the water sample.”
Sebi continues, “In the picture above, some juniors are lowering a Neuston Net into the water. In the picture below, the net is capturing water particles just south of the Brooklyn Bridge. The Neuston Net is also called a Manta Tow, and you can see why as it resembles a Manta Ray swimming on the water’s surface.”
above: Just before the Senior’s boat trip,
Mauricio shows students how to
adjust a Flow Meter in the Marine Bio Lab.
Sebi explains more, “In the picture above,
seniors rinse down the net from the Manta Tow
to collect all material that was captured. Below,
seniors transfer material into a collection cup.
Later, back in our lab, we analyzed the samples
and found plankton, algae, detritus and
sadly, a lot of micro-plastics.”
Please help our students to be able to continue doing
exciting projects like this by donating at Cheddar Up
Every little bit helps! Thanks
Thanks to Principal Jeff
and all the parents that
attended our first Marine
Bio Parent’s Zoom Meeting
last month. It was nice to
meet and share. Our seniors
are busy with the college
application process right
now. Parents of juniors and
sophomores asked for
college info, as it is never
too soon to start planning.
We are including some links
below. Please share info
you have that our families
may be interested in.
MarineBio scholars are busy getting ready for their field trips in New York Harbor
10th grade MBRP Class testing out the Beta-Bottle technique to sample phytoplankton
Sophomore Mark Garcia explains:
“We started off the year by learning all the mandatory safety precautions/protocols and getting to know our fellow peers. We then moved into microscopy. In preparation for our field work in NY Harbor we have been training with a device called the beta bottle that is used to collect actual water samples for analysis purposes.”
Want to help our MarineBio students?
Buy some supplies for them
at Cheddar Up
Lab Coats to keep them safe.
Water Measurement Tools
to keep the seas safe.
Donate what you can
…it’s all good!
You’re invited! On June 17, the New York Harbor School will be hosting its 10th Annual Marine Science Symposium through the digital cloud! Experience environmental science from our very own Marine Biology Research and Harbor SEALs scholars. Our honored keynote guests will be Dr. Kathleen Nolan, Chair of Biology at St. Francis College and Mr. Andrew Sommer, alumnus NYHS, class of 2015. Dr. Nolan and Mr. Sommer will share their personal and professional journey through the exciting world of scientific research. In addition, we will be honoring this year ’s NYC Terra ISEF Fair participant, Katherine Mumford, our post-secondary and industry partners, our MBRP symposium finalists, and our Manhattan Borough President, the Honorable Gale Brewer! Please take a moment to view our MBRP Class of 2021 websites.
The MBRP community would like to extend a warm thanks to our NYHS custodial staff, Mr. Benito Nunez, for assuming the oversight of the Marine Science lab for the complete year of the pandemic. Mr. Nunez has kept over 100 tilapia, various tropical freshwater and saltwater invertebrates, fish, reptiles, and amphibians alive and healthy! Benny – Thanks-a-million! The MBRP and the NYHS is tremendously fortunate to have you on the team!
Lastly, it’s with great grief that I inform you of the passing of marine restoration scientist and friend, Dr. Shimrit Perkol-Finkel, after an accident in her native Israel. We are most grateful to have had the opportunity to work alongside Dr. Perkol-Finkel over the last 10 years. Her legacy will live on as her company, Econcrete Co., continues to innovate and build biodiversity-attracting solutions into our coastal infrastructure. This symposium is dedicated to Dr. Perkol-Finkel.
If you’d like to participate as a judge during the fair, you may use this link.
Brought to you by our MBRP class of 2021 (and 2022) scholars.
Figure 02. Middle school Urban Vertical Agriculture Research Scholars planning the building of the NFT system. (Photo Credit: Mauricio Gonzalez)In 2003, Mauricio Gonzalez, founder and director of the Marine Biology Research Program presently at the New York Harbor School, was put in charge of a greenhouse that had just been built in the courtyard of the Frederick Douglass Academy (FDA), Harlem, NYC. Shortly before this, he had been running a small germination project in his classroom to teach his students the basics of experimentation and life science. Mauricio recounts spending his meager new-teacher paycheck on these materials while barely making the rent for the month.
Freshly out of college and with an appetite for innovation, he was hoping to be given the opportunity to run the greenhouse when he first caught glimpse of it during a tour of the school grounds. Mr. Hearn, then science chair at FDA, took notice of Mauricio’s passion for science and early success with an after school program called “Schwartz Science.” Over the span of 6 years, Mauricio’s students transformed the greenhouse and courtyard into a thriving Urban Vertical Agriculture Research Program, yearly producing basil, lettuce, tomatoes, and tilapia. The techniques used to grow these vegetables and fish were novel for New York City at the time. Hydroponics, aquaponics and aeroponics were new words for most. Mauricio realized that the science of hydroponics made for a great middle through high school inquiry-based curriculum.
His middle school students built intricate recirculating systems called “NFT” which stands for Nutrient Film technique; A-Frame structures; and recirculating aquaculture systems. They soon began experimenting with all kinds of novel designs and presenting them at yearly science fairs. Curious visitors from all over NYC came to visit: small scale urban gardeners to the mayor himself, Bloomberg. They all came to see our young team of budding urban scientists carefully weighing and mixing their nutrient chemicals and adjusting pH using acids, bases, and professional grade sensors.
Not content with just working in the greenhouse, his students tuned their gaze outside and built a beautiful elevated garden in the courtyard equipped with a wrap-around, fully automatic irrigation system. Projects like these gave rise to the idea of engaging young minds with real-world service learning projects. Mauricio also realized that given the right space and time, all students could find a way to succeed. With these successes came offers to build gardens around Harlem and nursing homes as part of a service learning grant from Purdue University. What started off as a small classroom experiment turned into a thriving laboratory of plant science and student inquiry. Mr. Hearn later recounted that “putting Mr. Gonzalez at the helm of the greenhouse was the best decision he had made at FDA.” To see more images of our students at work click here. Our next post will showcase the marine science and air quality work undertaken by these scholars to address problems outside the school itself.
These projects were made possible by the generous support of our sponsors, Mr. Robert Schwartz, The Hayden Foundation, Purdue University’s EPICS engineering grant, and Cabbage Hill Farm.
The goal of our COVID-19 project is to measure air quality around New York City and the New England Area by using a new device known as an “air quality egg” near students’ homes https://airqualityegg.com/home. With such data, air quality can be compared in real time which leads to the brainstorming and creation of many smaller student-led research projects. We have successfully installed EGGs in two states, all five boroughs, and soon, two countries! Students will process their data and answer their own inquiry question. We will meet on Wednesdays through Google Meet and Gather.town. Students will assume leadership roles and manage the project. The younger students learn teamwork and leadership skills virtually. A new virtual reality platform called Gather.town will be used that visually demonstrates the MBRP classroom setting, such as including our main lab, garden, and green room. Gather.town helps us efficiently get into breakout groups that the facilitator and team leaders can travel between quickly. More detailed information on our data will be forthcoming. See the images below for a virtual image of MBRP lab120.
Team Air Benders
So far our group has gone over the basics of a peer review journal article and how to find a reliable one. Most of my group is composed of sophomore’s so we have a lot of fresh faces that are new to our procedures in the Marine Biology Research Program and SEALs. So we got to discuss finding accurate journal articles as well as things we wanted to implement going further a as team.
Our team, ConEd, has come up with a rough question on how we can compare particulates in our air before and after the pandemic. We’re currently working on making the question more specific. We have been reviewing multiple peer review journal articles to get a better understanding on what particulate matter we want to focus on. We have seen in numerous articles that there has been a decline in air pollutants, like particulate Matter (PM).
Our question: How is the human body impacted by particulate matter and how do the effects differ between the 5 boroughs? What we have done so far: refine our question and get some peer reviewed articles. What we have planned: Looking further into peer reviewed journals, begin looking and testing data quality.
On June 17, the Marine Biology Research Program hosted an historic 1st Virtual Marine Science Symposium. The program was packed with wonderful people from NYC’s marine science community. Guests and scholars learned about ecological restoration, how fish use tools, how COVID has affected school life, the economy, politics, etc. and even judged projects! We had two inspirational keynote speakers, Heather Eisenlord and alumnus Grace Carter, talk to us about their career and school journeys. Click here to view the results of our Awards Ceremony, look at some pictures of our class of 2020, and download some resources. Next, we recognized the dedication of those PAC members that have gone above and beyond the call of duty to support our scholars year-after-year! They were Dr. Kathleen Nolan, Dr. Neal Phillip, Dr. Sunil Bhaskaran, and our all-star mom, Nan Richardson!
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the judges that dedicated their time to review videos and slideshows throughout the week following up to the event. Our scholars received invaluable feedback. These efforts contribute to the immeasurable effects communities have on their youngest of budding scientists. I cannot express my gratitude enough.
Passionate, creative, and kind – these are the three words that first come to mind when I think about the MBRP class of 2020. I will miss the passionate care for fish and marine life that always came up when something would go wrong with our systems and you were there to solve the problem. I will miss the challenging conversations we had on gun violence, “knowing thyself,” the broken school system, systemic racism, and, yes, research… I won’t miss pushing all of you to produce the best work you could produce! I will miss the teamwork you demonstrated often when it came time to support your fellow classmates. This is one of the things that kept me motivated to keep on pushing day in and day out, through the flus and the back aches. I recall seeing you teach each other and the younglings all the things you learned “on your own.” “Don’t ask Mauricio …” I’ll miss eating my PB&J sandwiches and my wife’s soups in front of you. I’ll miss the stories of cutting in the bathroom, mess hall, basketball court, and food truck. I’ll miss how some of you helped me track them down and saved me the phone call to guidance! I’ll miss the use of long nails to screw on tiny bolts on crab traps on the edge of the dock. I’ll miss the talks about politics, philosophy, and environmental justice. I’ll miss the hugs and hellos. I’ll miss your projects, your brownies and your holiday greetings. I’ll miss trying to not take pictures so as not to offend. I’ll miss seeing you use power tools and mixing cement. I’ll miss the movie and video suggestions. I’ll miss the sneaking up from behind to scare me. So, don’t ever forget that in my imperfect way, I always pushed you to be better than who you were yesterday and to be more mindful, thoughtful, and sensitive about this mysterious world around us and in us. You’ll remember our adventures in the MBRP, I “know.” You will always be my marine scientists! Best of Luck and Skill.
A huge thank s to our superstar symposium moderators: Marifer Sanchez-Gaspar, Sunita Pearson-Siegel, Randy Maharaj, Aelish Mullaney, Mimi Katz, and Heavenly Davis!
Finally, find here the Program for the 9th Annual, 1st Virtual Marine Science Symposium and here for our book “THE EFFECTS OF COVID19 IN A HYPERCONNECTED WORLD.”
In these difficult times, we wish you peace and health.
Mauricio and the MBRP gang
Civic Scientist Environmental Monitoring of the Hudson-Raritan Estuary