The Rockland Community Foundation honored Clarkstown North High School Marine Biology teacher Heidi Bernasconi Wednesday with an Innovative Teacher Grant.
The Rockland Community Foundation is a non-profit that helps connect donors with other non-profits in Rockland to ensure they can raise funds. This is the third time they’ve given out Innovative Teacher Grants.
Bernasconi’s marine biology class earned her $153 grant. With it, she’ll be able to continue the program of taking her class to Little Tor Elementary School two days a year. There are about 24 high school students who go to Little Tor and work with about 120 elementary students over the two sessions.
The high school students show the younger kids different organisms, tell them how they are collected and talk to them about the ocean.
“My students actually write children’s books that they bring down and the reading buddies at the elementary level actually read to each other, mentor each other on our children’s books,” Bernasconi said. “At the end of our day, we actually donate our books to their library so the students can check them out. The kids learn a lot, we learn a lot from them. It’s really a phenomenal time. It’s a fabulous day.”
She added that they’ve been going to Little Tor for four years. Bernasconi said a lot of her students also work as camp counselors, so they’re good with the younger kids. The money will go toward busing the students from North to Little Tor.
Bernasconi said the program teaches the younger students about how they interact with the world around them.
“It’s incredibly important because the things that we teach the elementary kids are things that you need to know at that level, [like] how to save the ocean,” Bernasconi said. “Everything we do from the time that we’re born to the time we die, we’re affecting the environment, and those are some of the things that we stress to them.”
Teaching the younger students was one of the reasons Bernasconi’s class stood out to the grant committee.
“It’s so difficult because we do have limited funds. Everyone is worthy, it’s amazing,” said Neil Winter, head of the grants committee. “What really stood out most about yours is the link you made from the high school students to the Little Tor students and that link in terms of just expanding their knowledge and the excitement for science, it gets them really motivated for the future.”
Bernasconi certainly hopes her program will help motivate students in the future, possibly both in class selection and career path.
“We just get them interested in knowing that this is an elective class, so if some kids don’t know when they come to high school that this class exists, it’s kind of exposure to the class so we can have some future marine biologists,” she said.