Friday, June 18, 2010

The Beczak Experience - From the Eyes of the Eastchester High School Interns

The first time we visited Beczak, we were intimidated by the people we saw along the way. Coming from a racially homogenous bubble, venturing into downtown Yonkers was, at the least, an adventure. We were only partially joking when we claimed that everyone wearing red was part of a gang, even if they were under the age of ten. Pulling into the Beczak parking lot, we couldn’t help but notice that we were conveniently located across the street from the Yonkers city jail. As we stared across the street, two policemen were escorting a man in handcuffs into the jail. We looked at each other and the same look was mirrored on all our faces. What are we getting ourselves into?
Over time, we began to feel more comfortable in our new surroundings. The four of us were surprised when we first were given the tour of Beczak, since we wouldn’t have thought that an urban area would have such green space. The park was larger than we expected, complete with a marsh, tidal pool, campfire, and beach area. People often came to the park with strollers and dogs in tow. While taking some kids on a scavenger hunt, we noticed a display board showing how the whole area used to be a landfill. We were amazed at how Beczak was able to restore such a pristine area from a grimy, polluted wasteland.
During the programs, we would sit idly in the back and observe. By the end of the experience, we could recite entire lessons by memory. We were most shocked at how much environmental knowledge the children have at such a young age. It’s great that they are growing up with the environment in mind. When Vicky asked the kids what the “whiskers” on catfish are called, we looked at each other, dumbfounded. The children fought to say “barbels!” first, but we had never heard the term before.
After the first few experiences of seining, we realized that we had underestimated the patience and versatility needed to work with young children. After a day of teaching and allowing children to experience the natural habitat around them, we were wiped! However, the knowledge that we exchanged and the personal encounters we had were well worth all of our time and effort. We all enjoyed making new friends each day as the children seemed enthusiastic and willing to learn. However, the most interesting part of this entire experience was the myriad of facts we absorbed by working here. If asked on the spot, we could recite the exact length of the Hudson (315 miles) and the location of its source (Lake Tear of the Clouds, Mt. Marcy - 5,000 ft in elevation). We also learned about the various species of fish and wildlife found within the Hudson’s entire estuary. We now know the names, translations, and identifying characteristics of marine life (Mummichog is Native American for “fish that school”). It sounds nerdy, but we would exclaim various facts when applicable in everyday conversation with friends.
Overall, this experience has allowed us to strengthen our understanding of environmental science, our interpersonal work skills, as well as our awareness of our own surroundings. We realize the ramifications of malignant actions and how the river and all aspects of the ecosystem must be held responsible for human selfishness. This internship has also reinforced our decision to enter the field of environment science to remedy situations like our current Gulf Coast crisis. We will take each lesson we’ve learned with us and apply it to our lives. Life is like seining; you never know what you’re going to catch.

Raina Gandhi
Nicholas Parisi
Andrew Raffo
Gianluca Salza