It seems that wherever you look in the area around Staten Island’s PS 57, there are landmarks of Patricia Lockhart’s compassion.
Behind the school is Eibs Pond Park, where Lockhart, science teacher and head of the park’s education program, can often be found with her students caretaking the wetlands, one of the Going Green Projects she instituted 15 years ago.
Nearby are the Park Hill Apartments, where a student’s baby brother fell to his death from a fire-escape window in 2000, spurring Lockhart to get federal grants to install safety gates in the building that can be opened in the event of fire. She started an ongoing campaign, with child lobbyists in tow in Albany, to push for making such gates mandatory in New York City.
Then there is the honorary name of the street alongside the school: Boimah Cooper Drive, in memory of the little boy Lockhart rescued during a trip she made to Liberia in 2005 to understand the issues among the many war-torn Liberian children at Public School 57. While bringing the sick and injured in a truck to a hospital, she found the boy left under a tree to die. His only hope was surgery in America.
So Lockhart brought him home.
He called her “mommy,” had successful surgery, attended PS 57, then died of complications due to tubercular lungs.
After she buried her son-to-be in Liberia came a response that is vintage Lockhart. She established a foundation in Boimah’s name on behalf of Staten Island’s Liberian community, got students involved, and searched Liberian orphanages for Yatta, the little girl whose safety Boimah used to pray for.
Now Yatta is Lockhart’s adopted daughter, thriving, healthy and happy as a 4th-grader at PS 57. And she’s one of the school’s many children whose hearts and minds are completely engaged in caring for the Earth.
“When I’m with Ms. Lockhart, it’s always an adventure,” said Disiderio, a member of Lockhart’s 5th-grade core robotics team.
She’s a teacher who creates a world where children want to join her. They’ll sit with her on the floor with a screwdriver to adjust the solar-powered trike they designed for adults with disabilities and that won an award from the Staten Island chapter of FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Lego League.
Alongside their teacher, students plant flowers and vegetables, build small solar-powered machines, recycle, collect two-liter plastic bottles for building a greenhouse, and write to pen pals upstate at their partner school in Green Connections, a program in which they serve as stewards of the New York watershed.
They implement ways for their school to save electricity. For two years in a row, the school placed third in the citywide Green Cup Challenge for greatly reducing a month’s worth of Con Edison bills. Lately, kids have been discussing how to spend the $15,000 prize money in a way that best benefits school, community and planet.
At other times, students are exploring waterways on canoes and testing water and soil during camping trips, while Lockhart, a tall woman, reigns supreme with her bucket of flashlights, bug spray and marshmallows.
“These urban children love nature when they’re exposed to it,” said Lockhart, who serves as school grant writer, chapter leader and representative for the UFT Staten Island Political Action Committee. “Of course they scream when they find worms — they get so excited about insects and animals.
“It’s one thing to learn about a worm from a photo, but to actually hold a worm — that lasts much longer in their memory,” she said. “ I truly believe that’s why science test scores are high here. Science comes alive for them.”
Science has been a part of Lockhart’s life since childhood. She was one of six children whose mother, Grace Copp, was a teacher at Staten Island’s Susan Wagner High School.
“We were a group of overachievers in the world of science fairs,” said Lockhart, who graduated from New Dorp High School and started out as a paraprofessional at Public School 57 in the late 1980s.
“My mother would buy us all the supplies we wanted and let us go to town. It was never if you were going to win, but how many first places you were going to win.”
Now Lockhart is focused on getting her students to enter and win science competitions.
Lockhart’s roots in the community and in education run deep.
“My mother was my inspiration,” she said.
Her mother was upset when she had to retire a year early due to ill health. The subject came up during a visit to the doctor’s office.
“Don’t worry,” the doctor said, “your daughter will carry on for you.”
-- Ellie Spielberg
(This feature originally appeared in New York Teacher, the membership publication of the United Federation of Teachers.)