Vanderbilt Magazine

Vanderbilt Magazine

Classroom of Water

by B.J. Rogers

Fall 2010The Classes  |  Share This  |  E-mail  |  Print  | 
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Murray Fisher, founder and program director of the Urban Assembly New York Harbor School, has been interested since childhood in protecting the natural world and bringing back its former abundance and diversity. At his first job, with Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s environmental group Riverkeeper, Fisher shouldered significant responsibility while learning important life skills.

“I thought, ‘School should be like this, too,’” he says. “Educators should capitalize on young people’s inherent interests and have them doing valuable, productive work helping society.”

With allies who included the leader of Urban Assembly—a network of small, themed New York public schools in low-income areas—Fisher founded New York Harbor School in 2003. It prepares graduates for careers in marine science, aquaculture, technology and environmental policy, using biologically rich New York Harbor as both classroom and laboratory while integrating marine skills with core curriculum. Students are currently leading a large oyster restoration study in the harbor.

This year, after Fisher won a lengthy, determined fight to secure land and funds from the city and state, the Harbor School finally moved from its original, temporary location in landlocked Brooklyn to Governors Island in New York Harbor.

“My experience at Vanderbilt helped formulate my vision for creating a new type of public high school,” says Fisher. “It set the standard for the quality of education I believe every young person in this country deserves, and it introduced me to the kind of practical but rigorous pedagogy in which I thrived.”

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© 2015 Vanderbilt University | Photography: AP/Wide World Photos (Kathy Willens)

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