Jose Chirino, a 10th grader in Brooklyn with shoulder-length hair and a thin mustache, says flatly that his high school was his last choice.
At the Growing Up Green Charter School, the day’s lesson was how the local environment affects food choices
“They’re experimenting on us,” he said, recalling his first impression of the Green School in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, which laces an environmental theme into most of its coursework.
Jennifer Auceda, 17, was similarly wary, given that she wanted to be a singer and never saw herself as a “science person.”
“I thought it was going to be about the inside of trees,” she said.
But the two reluctant recruits, who had both failed to get into the high schools they favored, said they were won over after realizing that the school casts a wide net.
Rather than simply covering predictable topics like recycling and tree planting, they say, it has alerted them to problems like sooty air and negative media representations of their neighborhoods.
“Green is not just the environment,” Jennifer said. “It’s politics, government, social justice.”
“We do a lot of things other schools are not doing,” said Jose, 15. “I feel like we’re doing something important.”
While plenty of city schools, from elementary to secondary, teach students about environmental issues like endangered species or global warming, places like the Green School put an overwhelming emphasis on civic involvement.
The students are encouraged to delve into local issues that may affect them and their families, like contamination in waterways like the Gowanus Canal, water quality or the razing of low-scale housing.
“You can’t have a kid in a violent neighborhood and say, ‘Let’s talk about the polar bear,’ ” said Karali Pitzele, one of the school’s two co-directors.