This post is part of our ACE's Teacher of the Year blog series.
At ACE, we talk a lot with students about what they can do after our ACE climate science and solutions presentation to begin confronting the global climate crisis. In fact, it’s the real thrust of our work---to activate students to undertake projects that curb global warming. I mean, you remember. Pick a DOT and start an action team. It’s just that simple. Or is it?
Well, it’s not. While our exciting presentation gets students super informed (numbers don’t lie) and impressed by our memorization skills, it is not a surefire recipe for leading students to feel like they have the power to imagine and shape the future they want in bold and unprecedented ways. ACE is the students, their teachers, and our partner organizations we work with, and it’s the way in which we all work together that makes ACE successful. It’s the extraordinary support and mentorship from a teacher that can really make the difference. The difference between an idea that sits full of possibility on a piece of paper and an action plan that is set into motion, the difference between a student who hopes that they can make a difference someday and a student who knows their power to make a positive impact in their community right now-- the difference between untapped potential and high school students who are leading the way in climate change solutions.
The day ACE visited the Bronx Design and Construction Academy changed the game.
Nathaniel Wight hosted the ACE assembly for his school in 2010. After seeing the assembly, he and his students formed Green Explosion and started thinking of ways to make an impact at school while applying and building upon their skills. Since their school has a focus on construction, Nathaniel supported his students in building a bamboo bike. What better way to make the Action Team relevant to students than to have the Action Team construct something at their construction school! Through the project, students learned about how transportation impacts climate change and sustainable ways to commute. They later took the project a step further and connected their bike to a generator to provide electricity for parts of their classroom.
Mr. Wight inspires his team to take a common sense approach to the impact they have at their school. They ask themselves what is needed at their school and they act in a way they know will be relevant. The team constructed a green roof and began growing fruits and vegetables. Situated in a community that’s inundated with unhealthy food options, the green roof transformed students’ understanding of food and their access to it.
But that wasn’t enough. Mr. Wight encouraged Green Explosion to push their scientific inquiry and expand how else they could transform their school. Naturally, students who are apt in construction, seized an opportunity to build a solar panel canopy over their green roof to experiment with how it would impact their vegetation (and the HVAC system receiving energy from it).
This is what we’re talking about! An ACE educator has an arsenal of project ideas, but the real impact and change occurs at the nexus of project idea and personal interest. That’s what Mr. Wight saw in the ACE assembly. He saw the ACE assembly as being the spark and through the rapport and commitment he has to his students, he nurtured their passion for construction and supported them in completing projects they cared about.
In January 2013, Green Explosion traveled to Abu Dhabi to represent the United States in the Zayed Foundation’s Future Energy Prize where they took home 2nd place for their green roof and solar canopy! Plus, add that to the fact that they were the regional winners of ACE’s Biggest Loser Energy Competition.
Mr. Wight deserves to be Teacher of the Year because of his passion for and humbling dedication to supporting his students to accomplish projects that sharpen their skills, provide a foundation for their personal goals and ignite a lifelong commitment to protecting our environment. Ella Baker said, “Give light and people will find the way.” The ACE assembly is that light and Mr. Wight helps students in The Bronx not only to find a way, but to etch a new path of possibility.
ACE NYC is inspired by you, Nathaniel Wight, and honored to nominate you for The Teacher of the Year award! Thank you so much, Nathaniel Wight!