Institute Links City Kids, Environment

By Mark Sullivan
Staff Writer

Pupils and teachers from a dozen Boston-area schools who have been conducting ecological studies of the Charles and Mystic rivers will present their findings at a June 8 conference hosted by the Watershed Institute at Boston College, a year-old, non-profit organization dedicated to restoring and protecting urban watersheds while encouraging city youth to take the lead on environmental issues.

The conference will bring together participants in a new pilot program in the public schools that Watershed Institute Co-directors Charles Lord and Maxwell Kennedy hope will be a national model for helping urban youth become environmental leaders in their own communities.

Watershed Institute Co-directors Maxwell Kennedy (left) and Charles Lord. "The program is designed to get young people from urban areas involved in the outdoors so they will become advocates for the environment, so that what happened in the last generation will not happen again," said Kennedy. (Photo by Justin Knight)
"The program is designed to get young people from urban areas involved in the outdoors so they will become advocates for the environment, so that what happened in the last generation will not happen again," said Kennedy, an environmental lawyer who is a son of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.

"This outreach for education and environmental justice to underserved communities directly fulfills the Jesuit and Boston College mission of accomplishing a just society," Kennedy said.

The school program launched by the institute had five teams of pupils and teachers conducting field studies this month on the Mystic River, and seven on the Charles. Participants in the program have included high school students from Brighton, East Boston, South Boston and West Roxbury, as well as from Newton North, Somerville, Cambridge, Revere and Watertown.

At the conference, research teams from each school will report on the progress of their field studies. Massachusetts Environmental Secretary Robert Durand is scheduled to deliver opening remarks at the conference.

Kennedy said the school program developed by the Watershed Institute includes a component for mentally-retarded children that allows them to participate in ecological field studies.

"These special children often have difficulty learning in traditional classrooms, but they can find and count bugs as easily as anybody," said Kennedy. "It's a wonderful opportunity for them to develop their talents in a non-traditional learning environment."

Serving as the Watershed Institute's educational director is Boston College Environmental Studies Program Director Eric Strauss, a nationally recognized leader in the study of endangered species and coastal habitats who has just completed a multi-media biology curriculum for high schools.

The school program is one of two major projects the Watershed Institute has developed over the past year. The other, the Stewardship Program, has been aimed at the restoration of open spaces along Boston Harbor and elsewhere in the metropolitan area.

"Our model puts community groups at the center of a cooperative planning process for sustainable use of regional environmental resources," said Lord. "We are working on five projects at this point, ranging from a bike trail in Roxbury to the Fan Pier to redevelopment of contaminated properties in Chelsea, East Boston and Quincy.

Lord, a co-founder of Alternatives for Community and Environment Inc., an environmental justice law center in Roxbury, and Kennedy, a former prosecutor, have shared an interest in environmental law since their days as law students.

The two now teach as part-time faculty members in the Environmental Studies Program, where they have collaborated on a biology course, Nature in American Culture, and are developing a graduate political-science course, Urban Environmental Policy.

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