High school would focus on ‘greening’ the neighborhood
By Jacqueline Wang
With a new name and new partners, organizers of a high school devoted to urban agriculture and green jobs are again knocking on the door of the city’s Department of Education, asking for approval.
The Hunts Point High School for Sustainable Community Initiatives would be located at The Point Community Development Corporation on Garrison Avenue, and would emphasize careers in recycling, environmentally-friendly building and producing and distributing fresh, locally-grown food.
Last year, the city Department of Education rejected a proposal to establish the Majora Carter Achievement Academy in Hunts Point. Refusing to accept defeat, teacher Stephen Ritz, the driving force behind the school, now calls for the renamed school to become a “career and technical education” school—a school that integrates academic study with training for specific career paths, in this case green technologies.
In its new form, the school would partner with Green Living Technologies, a company that plans to use patented technology to grow produce on the roofs and walls of buildings. Students trained in installation and maintenance of these green roofs and walls would be able to find employment at the company.
The school also plans to cultivate relationships with such local employers as Sims Metal, the recycling giant, and the Hunts Point food markets.
Other partnerships include the Cloud Institute for Sustainability Education and Mothers on the Move. But perhaps the most significant change is the agreement of The Point to house the school. The community center is going to plant a green roof, using funds Attorney General Andrew Cuomo forced polluters to pay to the state, and the roof will serve as a living laboratory for students if the school wins approval.
The school’s mission is two-fold, explains Ritz. Students would receive training and preparation for both living wage employment and college. The proposal calls for students to graduate with both a high school diploma and an industry-recognized employment certifications in such fields as green roofing, urban agribusiness, natural resource maintenance, recycling, brown field remediation or hazardous waste cleanup.
A typical school day would consist of the usual math, English, science and social studies courses, but would also include specialized vocational courses in the afternoon. Tasks would include projects such as managing The Point’s green roof and using air quality monitoring backpacks to prepare reports on air pollution in the Bronx.
Students would also have access to Sustainable South Bronx’s FabLab, where they could use computers to turn designs into real world models.
Ritz, the school’s would-be founder, is an award-winning teacher who founded Walton High School’s Green Teen Program, using a community garden in the Wakefield section as a focus for education, while producing vegetables both for sale and for donation to programs that feed the hungry. He recently received the Intrepid Honors Hometown Heroes Mentor Award for consistently generating 100% passing grades on the state Regents exams in math and science.
Ritz believes the new school could keep many local students from dropping out. “There are so many kids, that if they could walk to a high school, they would be in school,” he says.
“I think that the neighborhood really needs a great school that they can send these kids to, that is congruent with the direction that the neighborhood wants to go in,” said Jaimie P. Cloud, founder and president of the Cloud Institute for Sustainability Education, a would-be partner of the school.
The road to approval is rocky, however. In November, the Department of Education turned down the proposal, but left the door open to reconsidering it.
Often, the education department will see a proposal that “shows a lot of promise,” and suggest reapplying after adjusting certain details, explained spokesman Will Havemann. The department has agreed to meet with the school team to discuss ways in which the proposal could be revised and succeed.
“In my heart, I believe that there’s a way and a willingness to move this timely and willing proposal forward,” said Ritz.
Majora Carter, the founder of Sustainable South Bronx, said she is “grateful for people like Steve Ritz,” for “steadfastly feeding our youth, spiritually and educationally.”
Speaking about the school proposal, Carter said, “I think that when people see it, they’ll be kicking themselves for not supporting it from the start.”
A version of this story appeared in the December 2009/January 2010 issue of The Hunts Point Express.