Oakland Schechter hosts ‘green fair’
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Oakland Schechter hosts ‘green fair’


A representative from The Hackensack Riverkeeper explains how rivers are being polluted and how to preserve their safety.

The three Rs traditionally stood for reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic, but at Gerrard Berman Day School, Solomon Schechter of North Jersey in Oakland, students are redefining the R’s as “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Rethink.”

On Jan. 12, first- through eighth-grade students took part in the school’s Green Fair, a day-long workshop that presented new ways to think about the environment and provided hands-on learning opportunities to better understand how the environment is affected by human actions and what individuals can do to protect it.

The idea came from the head of school, Rabbi Ellen Bernhardt, and the middle school director and general studies coordinator, Robert Smolen.

Students touch a snake brought to the Green Fair by Lorimar Sanctuary.

“Each year our school has a curriculum theme around which we structure many programs and enrichment learning opportunities,” said Bernhardt. “This year’s theme is environmentalism. As an extension of the classroom programs that we have planned, we decided to create a green fair to give students a fun and inventive way to learn about environmental issues.”

The morning program was composed of workshops created by middle school students for elementary school students.

“We set forth only a few parameters,” Bernhardt said. “All of the materials they used had to be recycled materials; they were not allowed to buy anything. The programs they designed had to be age-appropriate for the younger students and teach them a concept associated with environmentalism.”

Some students created a puppet show with recycled material to demonstrate the importance of conservation; others conducted art workshops to teach the younger children to make jewelry, jewelry boxes, origami, and collages out of recycled material; and another group designed games with recycled material, such as relay races that taught what products are recyclable.

Fifth-grader Coby Zur said he was surprised at all of the statistics he learned.

“I didn’t realize that we wasted so much,” he said. “I did learn more about composting and not to use plastic water bottles, but use reusable metal bottles instead.”

In the afternoon, middle school students from Solomon Schechter of Bergen County in New Milford, Reuben Gittleman Day School in Rockland, Solomon Schechter of West Orange, and Solomon Schechter of Manhattan joined GBDS middle school students for a symposium on affecting the evironment.

“This was a unique program because it was designed specifically for middle school students, and we were delighted to welcome so many students from our area,” Smolen said.

Dr. Steven Bernhardt, Honeywell global director for regulatory affairs, spoke to the students about the causes of climate change and explained the impact of carbon dioxide on the environment.

Rabbi Lawrence Troster, the director of the Fellowship Program at GreenFaith, discussed Jewish environmentalism and Jewish sources on ecology.

Part of GreenFaith’s mission, he explained, is to ensure that everyone lives in a clean, safe environment. He went on to explain the concept of what GreenFaith calls environmental justice.

“The current climate crisis has been caused by the people that are the least affected,” he said. “The poorest people in the world suffer the most.”

Oren Levi, a GBDS alumnus and Rutgers University senior majoring in physics, discussed the physics of climate change. Using models and demonstrations, he explained the physical reactions that cause climate change.

Following these presentations, students were treated to four smaller workshops featuring one of a dozen groups such the Jewish National Fund, which gave a presentation on water sustainability in Israel; The Hackensack Riverkeeper, which explained river preservation; and The Lorimar Sanctuary, which gave a presentation on the effect of environmental changes on reptiles. Entergy from the Indian Point Nuclear Plant explained alternative energy options and The Tenafly Nature Center brought a raptor and owl injured as a result of environmental abuse. Also available for the students to explore was a Smart Car, which its makers claim is environmentally friendly, and a variety of “green” and organic products.

“Our goal for the symposium was not only to provide all of the students with knowledge of what climate change is and why it is occurring, but give them practical ideas and opportunities for them to make changes in their own world,” Smolen said.

“I learned about the importance of trees in our environment,” said Sarah Jacob, a Reuben Gittleman seventh-grader. “We give off a lot of carbon dioxide. By planting trees, which use carbon dioxide, we are helping the environment.”

Presenter George Chevalier, of Terra Cycle, a company that “recycles the unrecyclable,” said events like these are needed to expose students to the causes and solutions associated with climate change. “We have to reach the kids and change the way they think about trash and waste,” he said.

“We are delighted that we were able to host so many substantive programs for our students and other Jewish students in our community,” Bernhardt said. “These children are the future leadership, and giving them the knowledge and resources to make important changes is vital for all of us.”

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