Students say NYC school buildings need a climate change

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By Dan Sears

A group of New York City teens are launching a campaign urging Mayor Eric Adams to speed up plans to retrofit school buildings to make them safer, healthier and more climate-friendly.

The teens – part of a student-led environmental coalition called TREEage – are asking peers across the city to post videos to social media about why their schools urgently need green energy upgrades. The group is also asking students to grade how green their school is from A to F.

Zuzu Qadeer, a student at Beacon High School, has already submitted a video highlighting problems at their school.

They said polluted air from a taxi garage next to the school has caused the building’s basement to have such poor air quality that it had to be evacuated 18 times last year. Students have complained of headaches and nausea due to the fumes.

“Here at Beacon we share a wall and a vent with these businesses so the chemical fumes from the taxi repair shops drift into my school’s air,” they said. “We are forced to breathe in dirty air every day.”

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Education department spokesperson Jenna Lyle said the city has been working to remediate the air quality issues at Beacon. “We are aware and engaged in this situation and take these concerns seriously,” she said, adding that there have been no air quality issues at the school since the fall.

In October 2022 the Adams administration announced a $4 billion plan to begin retrofitting 100 schools to all-electric heating and build only electricity-powered new school buildings by 2030. The mayor also pledged to end the use of polluting No. 4 heating oil in schools and upgrade hundreds of lights to LED bulbs.

“New York City Public Schools is proud to be fully and continuously committed to sustainability in our schools and in our communities. Ensuring our young people are empowered to advance sustainability and climate justice is a priority for NYCPS,” Lyle, the schools spokesperson, said.

Kathryn Gioiosa is a sophomore at CUNY and co-executive director of TREE-age, said those initiatives are “a good starting point … but it’s definitely not enough.”

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Before CUNY, Gioiosa attended Forest Hills High School. She said during her time there the school had issues with lead in the water. In the winter, the heat was too high, and in the summer there wasn’t enough air conditioning. She ran track right next to traffic on Grand Central Parkway.

She noted that students her age and younger have been feeling the climate crisis even more intensely after smoke from Canadian wildfires blanketed the city last spring and torrential rains flooded commutes this fall. She hopes the social media campaign will help students elevate the issues at their individual schools and connect with each other.

“There’s still so many schools that haven’t been upgraded and invested in,” she said.

“We have to make schools more resilient.”

The student coalition wants to see 500 schools go electric by 2030 – five times as many as the mayor has promised – and set a goal of making schools emissions-free by 2040.

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The social media challenge kicks off Monday and goes through Feb. 2. Participating students are encouraged to tag the videos with the hashtags #MayorAdamsFixMySchool #GreenHealthySchools.

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