Greenpoint Gazette
Jeff Mann
Rocco Balsamo explains the building of the vertical garden

SYSTEM Wraps Up its Third Year of Summer Learning

BY Jeff Mann

The third year of the Greenpoint YMCA / ExxonMobil SYSTEM program came to a close on August 16th, for ten of the area’s elite high school students. During the six week paid internship, a collaboration between the Greenpoint Y and the NYU Wallerstein Collaborative for Urban Environmental Education, and funded by ExxonMobil and Broadway Stages, the teens, selected out of 116 applicants, immersed themselves in the four STEM subjects: science, technology, engineering and math, covering everything from engineering and technology at NYU – Poly to tree surveys at Black Rock Forest.

On the 17th, the SYSTEM teens presented their newly acquired knowledge to a large group of family members, YMCA summer campers, community leaders and program supporters at a culmination ceremony at Lentol Garden. The event featured three summer projects: green technology/soil moisture sensors, beautification and a vertical garden wall.

Greenpoint Y Executive Director Keith Hicks, Councilmember Levin, Assemblyman Lentol, ExxonMobil Community Affairs Liaison Kevin Thompson, The Y campers and the SYSTEM teens / Photo: Jeff Mann

Splitting into groups, the SYSTEM students showed off their work to the attendees, while tying in concepts learned throughout the program. Kyle Creegan and Kyle-Ravi Chinsky of the green technology/soil moisture sensor group presented the sensors built with NYU-Poly. Their presentation included a discussion on solar energy with a demonstration using solar-powered cars created with the help of Solar One’s Joe Chavez. The members of the beautification group, Casey DeMicco, Fatumata Fofana and Kaiya Thompson explained how their project impacted three components of the garden. By managing weed overgrowth, creating a more functional seating area, and giving an old, rusty wheelbarrow a new purpose as a dynamic planter, Lentol Garden became more visually appealing but maintained its uniqueness. The vertical garden group formed by Rocco Balsamo, Nathan Cloud and Emily Vargas represented the largest project in the garden. This group related how they were involved in every aspect of the vertical wall’s final state from putting together the structure to filling it with soil and planting a variety of plants.

Showing off solar cars / Photo: Jeff Mann

After touring the projects, Assemblyman Joe Lentol expressed his pride in the students for “the wonderful work they had done this summer and the importance they placed on what the environment means to them and to the community.” Later he related that Lentol Garden was named for his father “because he had an excellent environmental record when he was a legislator. [Lentol Garden] is a living memorial to him.”

Many of the teens came into the program with definite ideas about career choices, but were forced to rethink their plans after learning about many fields they didn’t know existed. Kevin Thompson, Community Affairs Liaison for ExxonMobil, said his company believes that “in order for our nation and our students to be competitive in an increasingly complex world, students must be encouraged to consider these fields when pursuing higher education. We hope that this program can play a small part in educating students about the career choices available to them.”

Assemblyman Joe Lentol and the SYSTEM teens / Photo: Jeff Mann

Councilman Steve Levin agreed. “Getting the young people here today involved, getting it on their radar screens early on, is going to pay dividends” he said.

All the teens pointed to how close they became as a group. At the culmination ceremony, Rocco Balsamo told the audience of his apprehensions about joining the program. “I wondered if I was going to get along with everybody and if anybody would like my sense of humor,” he remembered. “I found a lot of great people here, people with many different talents in the SYSTEM program, and we just tied that all together.”

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