Volume 18 • Issue 45 | March 24 - 30, 2006

Downtown Express photos by Elisabeth Robert

I.S. 89 students Paula Ortigoza, 13, left, and Francie Seidl Chodosh, 13, explain to viewers what could happen if a tsunami hit Lower Manhattan at the school’s Extreme Weather Expo last week.

B.P.C. students dive into flood and weather possibilities

By Chad Smith

When the eighth grade students at I.S. 89 discuss the weather, they’re making more than small talk.

At their school in Battery Park City last Thursday, the students took a hard look at the earth’s future with an “Extreme Weather Expo,” a daylong inquiry, with interactive exhibits, into natural disasters and the dangers of ignoring nature’s warnings.

“There’s no hiding from the weather,” said Zoe Mylonas, an eighth grader. “It’s important to inspire people to care before our situation gets worse.”

Standing among the expo’s weather-related poster boards, diagrams, dioramas and video presentations, Mylonas was referring to the seemingly high number of worldwide natural calamites in the last few years.

Max Humphreys
Each exhibit at the expo dealt with a specific “extreme” weather phenomenon, from tidal waves to global warming. The impetus for the event, however, was Hurricane Katrina, said Erica Nash, an earth science teacher at I.S. 89.

“These weather issues are finally on the forefront,” said Nash, who first had the idea for the expo after she saw the harrowing photos emerging from Louisiana. “It’s important that kids understand the world around them. It’s important they understand how nature works and how these events happen.”

Teachers and students toured the exhibits on Thursday — exhibits that took months of preparation, students said. The eighth graders involved themselves with every aspect of the expo, and even produced a documentary-style movie about Hurricane Katrina.

“We can’t just sit back and say, ‘that’s sad’ every time something bad happens,” said Simone Senchack, an eight-grader who narrated the Katrina documentary with a classmate.

Perhaps the exhibit to hit closest to home was a scaled down, 3-D model depicting buildings, cars and trees on Warren St., Greenwich St. and the surrounding Downtown area partially under water. The exhibit was titled “Tsunami,” a rendering of what could happen to Lower Manhattan if global warming trends remain steady.

“Most of Upper Manhattan would be safe,” said one student to his friend after they walked by this exhibit. “Upper Manhattan is 30 feet higher than us.”

A 2000 Columbia University study projected that in the next 80 years sea levels might rise as much as 42.5 inches and the most severe storms that now occur about once a century could occur as frequently as once every four years. Coastal areas, including Battery Park City, would lie in a 10-foot flood zone.

The students at I.S. 89 imagined what this flooding might look like when they produced a mock newscast video presentation, hypothesizing about what would happen if the East River and the Hudson overflowed their banks. Parts of Manhattan would go under.

If all this talk of a Manhattan underwater became too worrisome for students, they could retreat to another area of the expo where poster boards with information on how to survive in case of a natural disaster were lined up. One poster board detailed how to conserve water, how to evacuate a city safely and whom to call for help.

Each year the eighth graders do in depth research about any given topic for an expo like this, a sort of rite of passage before high school. But students seemed especially engaged this year, teachers said.

Senchack, the student narrator, barely had a minute to herself as she tried to coax classmates into paying full attention to the video. After the Katrina video ended, she spoke about why she and her classmates produced it. “We have to learn from our mistakes,” she said.


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