The Power of Accountability

This year for my birthday Matt gave me a Garmin GPS running watch. I know what you are thinking, that doesn’t seem very romantic. I sort of thought the same thing.

However, when I opened the watch and realized that he purchased the version with the pink stripe and floral face, I knew I had married the most romantic guy ever.

I am a big believer that in order to feel good when you are working out, you should look good. That is why I occasionally allow myself to splurge on workout clothes from Lululemon and cute running skirts. When I was running the Disney Princess Half Marathon with my sister in celebration of her 30th Birthday, I almost leapt out with glee when I overheard another runner say “oh, that girl’s skirt is super cute.”

From that point forward, it didn’t matter if I got a person best time or even finished the race, in my mind, the race was already a success.

But back to my present – the fact Matt spent an extra second to pick out the pink watch truly warmed my heart. I think after 10 years of dating, he is finally starting to learn!

Since receiving this gift, Matt and I have gone on a few runs and I have been blown away with the results.  I now know, down to the hundredth of a mile, just how far I have run. I know my pace throughout the run, my pace per mile and my “real-time” pace during the run. I can track my heart rate and the elevation of the terrain. And with all of this data, I can adjust my pace accordingly and hopefully improve my running.

The watch holds me accountable. I no longer walk up the stairs that lead to the reservoir – I run them. I no longer get slower every mile – I aim to get faster. I no longer think I’ve run 4 miles, when in actuality I have only run 2.

I am pushing myself harder and I am getting faster. It is truly amazing what accountability does for performance.

Now, if only we could think of something like this that would help improve public education and teaching…

Educating Our Youth and Restoring Our Ecosystems

Last week I had the pleasure of visiting one of the incredible schools that Robin Hood funds. Going out into the “trenches” and seeing our actual poverty-fighting work is definitely the highlight of our jobs here. It is also a crucial element of the grant making process, as we want to see these programs in action ourselves. I was extremely thankful that the education team invited me along this time.

Last Friday we took the subway downtown to the Staten Island Ferry Terminal. We hopped aboard a ferry that chugged along across the harbor over the Governor’s Island. Just walking around the island was a cool experience, as I had never been there.

Governors Island is a 172 acres island, approximately one-half mile from the southern tip of Manhattan. First named by the Dutch explorer Adriaen Block, it was called Noten Eylant (and later in pidgin language Nutten Island) from 1611 to 1784. The island’s current name—made official eight years after the 1776 Declaration of Independence—stems from British colonial times when the colonial assembly reserved the island for the exclusive use of New York’s royal governors.

Defensive works were raised on the island in 1776 by Continental Army troops during the American Revolutionary War, and fired upon British ships before falling into enemy hands. From 1783 to 1966, the island was a United States Army post. From 1966 to 1996 the island served as a major United States Coast Guard installation.

On January 19, 2001, Fort Jay and Castle Williams, two of the island’s three historical fortifications were proclaimed a National Monument. On January 31, 2003, 150 acres of the island was transferred to the State of New York for a nominal fee of $1. The remaining (22 acres or 9 ha) was transferred to the United States Department of the Interior as the Governors Island National Monument, administered by the National Park Service.

The 150 acre portion of the island not included in the National Monument is administered by The Trust for Governors Island, an entity of the City of New York and the successor of the joint city/state established redevelopment entity, the Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation. The transfer included deed restrictions which prohibit permanent housing or casinos on the island.

The national historic landmark district, approximately 92 acres (37 ha) of the northern half of the island, is open to the public for several months in the summer and early fall.

During the summer of 2002, Murray Fisher, who worked at Waterkeeper Alliance, posed the question to Richard Kahan, President of Urban Assembly, who started two innovative public high schools in the Bronx; what about a maritime high school? Shortly there after, the New York Harbor School was created.

New York Harbor School

The New York Harbor School focuses on one mission: to use New York’s maritime experience to create a rigorous, college-preparatory curriculum that instills in its students the skills and ethic of stewardship. By using New York Harbor as their laboratory for helping learn the skills and content needed for going to college. They swim, row, sail, navigate and study the waters of New York while still preparing to go to college.

Harbor School school boosts a longer day to include enough instruction, not just to prepare students for success in college, but also for a specific maritime career. After introductory coursework in 9th grade, students choose one of the following six programs of study: Vessel Operations, Vessel Engineering, Marine Engineering, Scientific Diving, Aquaculture, Marine Policy. Each of these programs includes a sequence of courses that conclude in a work-based learning experience and a technical assessment that has been designed and approved by industry.

The belief at this school is that students learn best when they feel valuable. By entering the Harbor School, students have committed to, not only improving their own education, but also to improving the ecological health of New York Harbor through their active participation in restoration projects. The Oyster Restoration and Research Project (ORRP) is a partnership effort to establish a thriving oyster population in New York Harbor.

 Until the early 20th century, New York City’s waters were teeming with oysters. Some biologists estimate that the Hudson-Raritan Estuary was once home to half of the world’s oyster population, serving as both an abundant culinary delicacy and a natural water filtration system. Oysters are considered “ecosystem engineers” that shape their environment into complex three-dimensional structures to support themselves and a host of other organisms. Estuaries offer ideal conditions for these diverse ecosystems of marine and plant life to flourish. But now, due to overfishing, the destruction of natural wetlands, poor water quality from sewage overflow and decades of contamination, biodiversity has reached a low point — and the once ubiquitous oyster, a paragon of water filtration and habitat production, has nearly disappeared.

The New York Harbor School is working to reverse that – one oyster at a time. They just completed its second year in 2011. Harbor School students raised 600,000 oysters from larvae in a spat-on-shell facility in their aquaculture class. These juvenile oysters were driven in boats to five separate reef sites with Vessel Operations students, and were ultimately placed on the reefs by Harbor School student SCUBA divers.

The ORRP project’s end goal is to restore 500 acres of oyster reefs by 2015 and 5,000 acres by 2050. And these students are helping lead the charge.

 125 students enrolled in the school its first year; 90% of whom fell “Below” or “Far Below” grade level in math and reading. By 2008 (sorry, I don’t have access to more updated stats!), 80% of their seniors graduated on time and 95% were admitted into college, including Cornell, Skidmore, SUNY Maritime and SUNY Stonybrook. They did say that they anticipate similar numbers this year.

I’d say this school is succeeding. And who knew, success tastes like oysters!

I Love My Job

I promise, despite my posts of late, I won’t turn my blog into a complete love-fest for Robin Hood. Although, I certainly could do such a thing.

After working here for just four days, I am filled with such passion for our mission that hope that my blog can help others of you share my passion as well. David Saltzman is one of the people who started it all. Serving as the Executive Director since Robin Hood’s creation, he has seen the organization grow from a non-profit that raised just shy of $100,000 and funded two programs its first year, to its current stats: raising $1 billion raised in total and funding 200 programs in the year 2010 alone. To work with him is truly an honor and you are guaranteed to learn something every day.