Harlem Teacher Conducts Class on Global Warming — From Antarctica

Live from Antarctica! It's an eighth-grade science class on global warming for a group of Harlem students whose teacher is doing research on the frozen continent.

Students at Promise Academy participated in a videoconference Tuesday with science teacher Shakira Petit, who was bundled in a hooded parka, boots and gloves for her talk on icebergs and rising sea levels.

"Would it be easy for a kid to live in Antarctica?" one student asked.

No, Petit said. "There are no children here. It's all scientists."

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Petit is spending two months in Antarctica in a program sponsored by the New York-based nonprofit Global Nomads Group, which arranged the video hookup for the Harlem charter school that aims to prepare youngsters from disadvantaged backgrounds for top colleges.

Other schools on the hookup were in Newark, Del.; Davie, Fla.; Virginia Beach, Va.; and Douglass, Kan.

Stamping her feet for warmth in the minus 7-degree weather, Petit pointed out various features of Antarctica's McMurdo Station like supply buildings, trucks with big snow tires and a cross in memory of explorer Robert F. Scott.

Among the questions students asked: "What causes shapes and colors in an iceberg?" "How do you judge the age of the ice?" and "How thick is the ice you're standing on?"

Petit co-taught the class with Kirsty Tinto, a graduate student from New Zealand.

The women are part of a group of researchers seeking to further scientific knowledge of global warming by studying sediments deposited in Antarctica some 34 million years ago when there were dramatic global climate changes.

Terry Culver, executive director of Global Nomads Group, said 10 schools take part in two weekly video sessions.

The goals of the program are to teach young people about climate change, help students feel connected to other students around the world and bring science alive.

"Longer term we hope that this program excites people about science either to make it part of their common knowledge or to think of field research science as a career choice," Culver said.

Cynthia Knupp, a teacher at Indian Ridge Middle School in Floria, one of the schools in Tuesday's videoconference, said she is a believer.

"I can teach in the classroom all the content I have to, but for them to be able to actually see science in the field is amazing," she said. "My kids are thrilled. They think that they are real special because they get to be involved."

Gayle Hartigan, the computer resource specialist at Tallwood High School in Virginia Beach, said videoconferencing "opens the world up to the kids."

She said that in addition to the Antarctica project, Global Nomads Group's videoconferences have helped her students talk to South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu and victims of the genocide in Rwanda.

"When you just talk about it out of the book it's not as powerful as when you get to talk to the people who are doing it and living it," Hartigan said.

Back at Promise Academy, 12-year-old Catherine Casado watched Petit with rapt attention.

"It's just amazing," she said. "We're here videoconferencing with my teacher who's in Antarctica. And that's kind of amazing."