Extreme School Rooftop Makeovers: The Sky Is Not the Limit

Aug 2, 2010· 2 MIN READ
An empty roof is full of educational opportunities. (Photo: freschwill/Creative Commons)

Two schools recently decided to take renovation to a whole new level (literally!) by converting their rooftops into usable spaces for students.

At Lexington Academy (P.S. 72), an elementary school in East Harlem, youngsters were thrilled when two unlikely donors volunteered to solve their space crisis by installing a 5,000-square-foot soccer field on their roof.

In Massachusetts, members of the student-run Youth Climate Action Network at Boston Latin School spent the past year raising money to turn their green roof design into reality.


In 2008, after a member of the Abu Dhabi royal family purchased Manchester City, an English soccer club, the team embarked on an ambitious international outreach project.

Their goal, said the Wall Street Journal, was to support budding soccer players in underserved communities around the world.

When Manchester City traveled to New York City this summer for a soccer tournament, it formed a three-year partnership with New York's Downtown United Soccer Club and City Soccer Initiative.

That’s how the British team first heard about Lexington Academy—an elementary school where students struggled to play sports in their tiny gymnasium and overcrowded playground.

School officials recently drew a makeshift soccer field out of chalk to accommodate the Mexican-American and Central American students clamoring to play soccer, but the field wasn’t nearly big enough. Children started taking out their frustrations on each other.

"The kids needed the space. They wanted the space. We just couldn't afford to create it," said Principal Antonio Hernandez.

So Manchester City and the United Arab Emirates partnered to commission the installation of a full-sized soccer field on the roof of Lexington Academy.

The gleaming new field was unveiled on July 24.

"It's absolutely beautiful,” said Principal Hernandez.

As part of their three-year partnership, Manchester City will donate 30 soccer scholarships to young New Yorkers worth $1,000 each.


When the film An Inconvenient Truth was shown at their school three years ago, students like Nhu Le were inspired to make Boston Latin, the country’s first and oldest public school, more energy efficient.

She and her classmates also wanted to incorporate environmental studies into the curriculum. “I think schools can do a much better job integrating sustainability into the curriculum and not just have one unit about climate change but incorporate entire themes,’’ the sophomore told June Q. Wu of The Boston Globe.

Led by eighth-grade U.S. history teacher Cate Arnold, Le and her fellow Youth Climate Action Network members launched a statewide campaign to promote sustainability education.

They also developed a detailed plan for converting their school’s 70,000-square-foot roof into one of the most complex student-driven green roofs in the state.

Architect Gail Sullivan volunteered to consult with the students free of charge. She explained that when the project is finally complete, Boston Latin’s rooftop will do more than just reduce the school’s carbon footprint.

It will be transformed into a fully-equipped learning lab complete with weather station, greenhouse, two outdoor classrooms, a cafeteria, and a garden. The design also features solar panels, wind turbines, and an outdoor elevator.

Of course, a project of this scale doesn’t come cheap. Students are in the process of raising $6.2 million to fund the construction themselves, piece by piece.

So far, 28 solar panels and 350 trays of flowering plants have been installed. Two outdoor classrooms and an elevator should be completed by the fall of 2011.

Even though the project’s completion date is still years away, as part of a pilot program beginning this fall, Boston Latin teachers across all disciplines will incorporate sustainability education into their curriculum.

As headmaster Lynne Mooney Teta told The Boston Globe: “It’s not an add-on to what teachers are already doing; it’s simply a shift in perspective.”

Sophomore Steven Gingras is most looking forward to growing local food in the rooftop greenhouse, and then serving it to students in the cafeteria. “I’m excited for it to teach students about agriculture and hard work. It’ll be nice to eat something that you’ve grown,” he said.

Teachers are also beginning to imagine hands-on projects and experiments that the green roof will enable students to engage in.

So far, the possibilities seem to be as wide open as the sky.

Photo: freschwill/Creative Commons via Flickr