As a student who had the privilege of having a green roof on my elementary school, I can tell you firsthand what amazing opportunities green roofs hold for kids. Through learning about my local environment, hands-on STEM education, and helping to explore worldwide climate issues, green roofs changed my perspective on learning and the world as a whole. Even though I’m now finishing 9th grade, and it’s been four years since I’ve stepped foot on my elementary school green roof, I still remember the feeling when I was there.
Never before had I been exposed to hands-on environmental education – that’s just not possible in New York City! But one of my fondest memories was when Ms. Vicki, my science teacher, led us up to the green roofs so that we could make scientific observations about real-life plants. Just this simple thirty-minute exercise was so much more valuable than anything we could have done indoors because we not only interacted with the plants, but we interacted with the environment as a whole. We got to experience the ecosystem, including how bees and other pollinators interacted with the plants we observed, and how different plants grew in different ways.
Indeed, as my teacher likes to say, the green roof is our “outdoor classroom.” Green roofs supplement every single aspect of school. In addition to biological and ecological studies, I distinctly remember STEM projects dating all the way back to the second grade where we used the green roof to conduct engineering exercises, such as learning the basics of weight and force. Later, in fourth and fifth grades, we were able to use it to conduct more projects and experiments, including creating a model of the green roof. And still, there is more. We learned about the basics climate change outdoors so that we could understand it from a non-theoretical perspective. And we practiced real life climate solutions by building simple wind turbines and testing them outside. These are the types of exercises that we would not have been able to do – or would not have been nearly as enjoyable – if we didn’t have a wonderful green roof to do them on.
Yet green roofs also have positive benefits for the school and the community at large. There are numerous studies proving that green roofs provide natural insulation, improves stormwater runoff and management, extends roof life, and even improve the air quality of the community! Indeed, both the National Parks Service and the Green Infrastructure Foundation concluded that despite the upfront costs of a green roof, they have a net positive economic benefit due to all of their positive outcomes and their job creation. This study actually found that a $300 million investment in green roofs would result in a $183 million net benefit and $264 million in community benefits. So there should be no argument about the cost!
Arguably most importantly, green roofs not only provide academic, economic, and community benefits, but they also increase the emotional well-being of those who have the privilege of being on it. I personally remember the euphoric feeling when I was on the green roof – and I am not exaggerating, for truly, what is better than being outside, being with your friends, and learning more than you ever could have downstairs? Holistically, a recent survey of second and third graders conducted by my science teacher where she asked “How do you feel on the green roof?” returned, most commonly, phrases like: “calm,” “happy,” “free,” “feeling good,” “amazing,” “excited,” and “like I’m in the country.” The last phrase is what struck me the most, and I realize now that that’s a feeling I too had without realizing it. Born and raised in the city, I’ve always been surrounded by a “concrete jungle,” to quote Alicia Keys’s “Empire State of Mind”, and the green roof provided a new perspective that has become invaluable for me in life.
Ultimately, green roofs provide both quantifiable economic benefits and the unquantifiable learning experiences that are invaluable to growing minds. It was the green roof atop my school that invited me into the field of climate change, fostering a new relationship between me, my community, and the global environment. Because of this, I’ve been able to start my own climate educational organization and become a youth leader. Because of this, I’ve been able to grow my worldview, learning from a young age that the world is much larger than my small classroom. So I ask: why should every kid in America not have the multitude of opportunities presented by green roofs? Why are we vacillating over a bill that would so obviously benefit every single person it touches? Green roofs undoubtedly opened my mind to new possibilities and inspired me to become the person I am today. Why shouldn’t every child in America be able to have the wonderful opportunities that I did? That’s why Congress must pass the Public School Green Rooftop Program Bill.