Trinidad-born high-school environmental science teacher Neal Singh was one of seven recipients of the Sloan Awards for Excellence in Teaching Science and Mathematics in New York City last month.
Singh, 42, has been teaching at Florella H LaGuardia High School of Music and Arts and Performing Arts for the past five years where he has totally redesigned the science programme.
The awards, presented by the Fund for the City of New York and the Sloan Foundation, are given to teachers who use creative methods to "achieve superb results and inspire young people to pursue careers in mathematics and science."
When Singh joined LaGuardia in 2007, there was only one advanced science class and he's certainly had to be creative to now have 200 students on the waiting list for advanced science at a performing arts school.
In a recent telephone interview with the T&T Guardian, the Penal native credited his many achievements to his Trini upbringing. "I am very grateful for the life I had in Trinidad and I wouldn't be who I am without Trinidad," said Singh who added that he had the best teachers of his lifetime at his alma mater Palo Seco Secondary.
Singh migrated to the US in 1989 receiving his first degree in geology from Brooklyn College and post graduate degree in secondary science education from the City College of New York.
Growing up on a farm in a rural area fostered Singh's love for nature. It was the pollution of these areas, however, that gave him a sense of environmental consciousness. He remembers the river near his former school being polluted with oil and an entire flock of family ducks dying in a contaminated pond. "These things made me extremely sensitive to nature."
And although Singh does not consider himself an activist, he tries to live a "green" lifestyle. "I try to make everything I do as environmentally conscious as possible. I do organic gardening and I don't keep any dangerous products around the house."
Singh also sees himself as carrying out activism through his students. Some of the subjects Singh covers in class include the linkages between the environment and poverty, environmental racism and climate change. Alongside the scientific knowledge taken from textbooks Singh screens documentaries for his students, takes them to intensive outdoor labs to study various ecosystems and has a variety of speakers year round such as environmental lawyers, nutritionists, conservationists and representatives from environmental NGOs.
"Many of my students will become famous and I want them to have that environmental consciousness and to use that power fame brings to create change."
According to Singh, quite a few of his students are now pursuing science degrees at Ivy League universities and even those who've continued on to careers in the arts are involved with environmental advocacy campaigns and projects. For Singh, observing the changes in his students has been one of his greatest achievements. "When I'm in class and I can see the response of my students and see their genuine interest and the way they've committed to these ideas, the way they've changed their lifestyles I feel complete."
In the near future Singh hopes to return to T&T to assist with sustainable development projects related to the environment.