The Youth Engagement Zone at Banana Kelly:A Transformative Canoe Trip

By Stephanie Gilman, Program Manager

“I’m floating on the river! The river I’ve been studying all year!”

– Banana Kelly Student
Yaxeny Vasquesz

Service learning implementation at Banana Kelly’s Youth Engagement Zone has taken on many forms. We’ve completed community mapping so that students can develop the skills they need to recognize and troubleshoot problems in their neighborhoods, and we’ve planted trees in abandoned lots to explore how the environment fits into the Bronx’s urban landscape. Most of these have been projects undertaken by Banana Kelly’s 9th grade who, throughout the year, has also been examining water from the Bronx River in lab sessions that have fused science, math, and community awareness.

On May 16th and 18th, the 9th grade experienced the culmination of their curricular interaction with the river as they embarked on a class-wide canoe trip. These students had previously spent much time on the river banks, studying, but most of them had never actually been in the water, or even in a boat of any kind. Coordinating with the Bronx River Alliance, we prepped the students with safety instructions and a discussion of how they could connect the thrill of canoeing to the science they’d learned earlier.

This was an exciting field trip for many in Banana Kelly’s 9th grade. During the first outing, two students actually tipped their boat over and fell into the river. Luckily, 9th grade science teacher Nicola Vitale was with them, and everyone managed to remain calm while executing a speedy rescue. I imagine the students who fell in will always remember this day; it brought them a tremendous sense of accomplishment to have thrust themselves so confidently into this new activity.

[pullquote]It brought the students a tremendous sense of accomplishment to to have thrust themselves so confidently into this new activity.[/pullquote]

We were equally proud that the students made a connection between the canoe trip and the studies they’d completed on the river’s water for the last semester. Many, like Yaxeny Vasquesz, were exhilarated by the opportunity to physically interact with a body of water whose properties they knew so intimately. Exploring both the natural and urban elements of one’s environment isn’t only about asking questions and observing outcomes–it’s about getting one’s hands dirty, or maybe even drenching one’s body, in what his or her world has to offer.