Earth Day 2013 and Tony Memoli. Why do they go together so well? I’m going to focus on one of this educator’s contributions to Naugatuck that changed the environmental history of our town. Just as important are two aspects of Tony Memoli’s teaching that he does every day.
Earth Day is about making connections. We recognize that the oxygen we breathe, the water we drink and much of the food we eat come from the earth. We also recognize the many connections to other beings we share the planet with, from a microbe in the soil to the sparrow that greets us with a morning song to a fox running free at the Gunntown Passive Park and Nature Preserve. We are connected to them in many ways.
That’s why miners put canaries down in the mines with them. The miners were smart. They knew if the canaries became ill from toxic, odorless gases, that it would also affect them. They knew to get out of that mine and fast.
The miners knew what John Muir said so eloquently. When you touch one part of the environment you find out it is connected to the rest of the universe. John Muir started the Sierra Club and he is considered the father of our National Park System. John Muir was an immigrant. Like so many immigrants, he contributed to our economy and culture.
What was the event that Tony Memoli helped initiate that changed our environmental history in Naugatuck? Tony helped start and was the advisor to the Ecology Club at Naugatuck High School. Sitting in that club in 1995 were Casey Knittel and Vaneza Gouveia. I know this from a journal entry I made on Sept. 30, 1995.
Tony Memoli helped his Ecology Club understand about passive open space. He explained that there was a meeting that very night about this topic in the community. Girl Scouts, who were members of the NHS Ecology Club, attended the Gunntown passive open space meeting at the Stop & Shop community room. They were Vaneza Gouveia, Casey Knittel, other scouts, and their scout leader Maria Folsom. They became community leaders and saved the passive open space at Gunntown. Vaneza Gouveia/Clarke was Earth Day Mayor of the Day in 2012. She was an active member of the NHS Ecology Club of Tony Memoli’s.
Lastly, what else did Tony Memoli do? It is what he does every day in his science classrooms.
Tony gives students a scientific framework. He explicates the nitrogen cycle, the phosphorous cycle, the water cycle, and oxygen/carbon cycles. This scientific framework makes it much easier for students to comprehend passive open space, that is land with no impervious surfaces, no hard surfaces. Why is this so important? Porous soil makes it easier for these nutrient cycles to penetrate the earth. Soil microbes convert some of those nutrients into molecules that plants can use. And it is in green organisms that ultimately oxygen is generated and food is produced for all beings, including human beings. So Tony gives students a scientific framework for understanding these life processes and for comprehending the importance of passive open space.
Tony also helps students discover the causes of natural events. It was a Greek, Epicurus, who said, “Happiness is knowing the cause of things.” Tony Memoli wants his students to be happy.
He teaches about climate change. Where did Hurricane Sandy come from? How did it originate? It was the largest hurricane ever to have formed in the Atlantic Basin. The warm waters, a result of global warming, heated up the air. That warm air, laden with moisture, clashed with other fronts over our coast. The result was the devastating storm, hurricane Sandy. Hurricane Katrina had a similar origin over the Gulf of Mexico.
Why do Earth Day and Tony Memoli go together so well? It is due to his everyday efforts in his science classroom where he gives students a scientific framework to make connections and to understand the causes of climate change and other natural phenomena. That is why we appreciate and honor Tony Memoli (April 22) as Earth Day Mayor of the Day, 2013.
Community Outreach Director
Committee for a Cultural/Environmental Center-Gunntown Road