Discovering Our Ecosystems
A Sprout Up Experience
By Katarina Pittis
I have been a Sprout Up Instructor at New York University since January 2016. I am majoring in Film and Television with a concentration in Documentary Production and the majority of my films involve an environmental theme. It was difficult to adjust to moving to New York City three years ago, but joining Sprout Up helped me reconnect with my passion for nature and environmental advocacy.
I grew up in the countryside outside Santa Fe, New Mexico. I woke up in the morning to the sweeping landscape of hills and mountains, and spent many nights watching the stars. Since as long as I can remember, I was engaging in the natural ecosystem that was my backyard. Dirt, bugs, and cacti were my playground. Then, I moved to New York City. I was shaken by the contrast between the countryside and metropolis.
It took some time but I adjusted to the concrete jungle. I began to see nature growing through sidewalk cracks, tucked away in parks, and fostered in community gardens. It was beautiful in a different way. I developed a new drive to discover the nature within the city, and sought out to do two things: I searched for organizations that would foster the nature I loved and I strived to incorporate themes of environmentalism into my artwork.
When I joined Sprout Up, I was both excited and nervous to teach. I have always been around children but it was another story to be in the classroom. As I ventured into this new experience, I recalled the value that education played in my own childhood to foster my care for nature. My parents and school both encouraged me to learn about the natural world. I have a distinct memory of a non-profit organization of young adults that came to my first grade class. They taught us about water and how to conserve it in our desert environment.
Whenever I feel nervous to teach a Sprout Up lesson, I recall this memory. It stuck with me so strongly because of how interesting the topic was and how much fun they made the lessons. Sprout Up aims to create a similar experience. It taps into the curiosity of children to learn about their environment. What inspires me the most is when the lesson resonates with a student and they light up with curiosity. They are given the chance to discover their city in a new way.
I personally have always loved to engage in whatever place I live in. I find value in discovering the inner workings of that environment to see how I might fit into it. No matter what age, this curiosity has not disappeared. Currently, I am working on a documentary about Newtown Creek and the efforts of the community to engage in its’ improvements. The more time I spend along this waterway, the more I observe how industry and water interact in a city. Much like in Sprout Up, I have had the opportunity to watch others light up with curiosity when they discover parts of the natural world. An organization I have been following, Newtown Creek Alliance, showcases water critters at community events to highlight how life is thriving in the Creek. Adults, in particular, make audible sounds when they see the critters swimming around. Many of them have lived near the waterway for years but have assumed that the pollution has turned it into a dead zone.
As I near the final semester of my college career, I can’t help but reflect on how my opportunities in New York City have taught me invaluable lessons. It has been an honor to teach for Sprout Up because it has allowed me to learn from the curiosity of the children just as much as they have learned from the material. Together, we create the environment around us and, together, we can discover it in new ways.