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From the Science Barge to Over 300 Schools: Celebrating 20 Years of Sustainability Science and Climate Education

February 15, 2024

Our story begins in 2004 when Dr. Ted Caplow founded New York Sun Works and created the Science Barge, a sustainable urban farm and greenhouse that floated along the Hudson River. This single instance of compact sustainability inspired what has now become our Hydroponic Classrooms, creating hands-on science and climate education opportunities for students across the five boroughs of New York City. 20 years later, we’ve created partnerships with over 300 schools, training hundreds of teachers who in turn teach tens of thousands of students. Although our organization has grown over time, our mission has always stayed the same: to bring sustainability science and climate education to NYC public schools. We’ve also added new goals along the way, however, like creating pathways to green careers for students in secondary and post-secondary schools. 

It’s been quite the journey for us since the Science Barge, and there have been some truly magical moments along the way. In 2010, we built the first Hydroponic Classroom at PS 333 the Manhattan School for Children, where our original greenhouse-based design shines against the New York cityscape. Shortly thereafter we began writing our own curriculum and hosting teacher training workshops as we took our first steps toward an expansive climate education. It wouldn’t be until 2017 though that our online Learning Center would see its official launch, where years of curriculum development would find a home for teachers to access throughout the school year. After planting the first seed with our Hydroponic Classroom at PS 333, we realized something about our greenhouse approach. Not every school has the rooftop space or logistical resources to accommodate this kind of structure, and while the views are stellar, it’s really the hydroponic systems and the hands-on learning they provide that make our program shine. 

To that end, we began adopting a new approach to school partnerships, innovating on the use of urban farming as a tool to teach the science behind sustainability. Alongside key city partners like the Department of Education and School Construction Authority, we envisioned Hydroponic Classrooms as part of the everyday school experience, built into normal indoor classrooms that can be retrofitted to suit the systems. We believe every student deserves quality sustainability science and climate education opportunities, and operating under that philosophy we’ve grown from just one school partner in 2010, to 86 school partners in 2018, 170 in 2020, and now over 300 in 2024. 

More recently, in response to the COVID pandemic, we created our STEM Hydroponic Kits, which provided students and teachers a way to continue growing their own plants while learning remotely. During the 2020-2021 school year, we delivered over 12,500 of these kits across the city, and converted existing school labs into full indoor farms, providing food for school communities and local pantries to help alleviate the impact of the pandemic. In 2022, we piloted our High School Workforce Development Program with support from the US Department of Agriculture, partnering with the city’s Summer Youth Employment Program to certify high school students in Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA). Since the success of this initial pilot, we’ve continued to connect our older students with potential green careers, additionally equipping them with marketable technical and job-seeking skills that will help them navigate the fast paced NYC job market. 

Last year, we held our 12th annual Youth Conference at the iconic Javits Center, where their green rooftop farm and garden lent weight to our mission of bringing nature back into the heart of New York’s classrooms. This was our first in-person conference after years of pandemic learning, and it was a joy to welcome over 1,000 students and teachers from across the five boroughs and metro NJ to our celebration of sustainability science. With our 13th Youth Conference on the horizon and recent expansion to post-secondary education with LaGuardia Community College, the stage is set for this year to be our best one yet, and we’re incredibly excited to share it with all of you. Like us, our community has grown and blossomed over recent years, and we’re incredibly grateful for your support. It’s been an amazing 20 years of climate science, and we look forward to building more learning opportunities for twenty more!


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