School focused on green studies is nearing OK, founders say
If all goes according to plan, next September high school students will be growing vegetables on walls in Hunts Point, and going home with about $40 worth of groceries each month that they have produced themselves.
The Hunts Point High School for Sustainable Community Initiatives is approaching the final stage of the city Department of Education’s approval process. If the department signs off on it, the career technical school focused on urban agriculture and “green” technology and jobs will admit its first class in the fall of 2012, although no location has yet been chosen.
The city’s approval would reward years of effort by Stephen Ritz, a teacher at Discovery High School in Kingsbridge Heights, whose students maintain a community garden and grow food in their classroom. Ritz wrote the proposal for the new school, which would operate in partnership with the Pratt Institute, Green Living Technologies, Mothers on the Move, the Cloud Institute for Sustainability Education and The Point Community Development Corp.
A significant part of Ritz’s vision for the school is community building. The school would give first crack at admissions to local residents, and would be involved in ongoing partnerships with several community-based organizations.
Its students, expected to total about 500, will be encouraged to take part in The Point’s A.C.T.I.O.N. program for teens, whose horticulture programs are to be integrated into the school.
A.C.T.I.O.N. graduate Misra Walker, 19, thinks the proposed school is “a great opportunity for kids to stay involved in their community and learn in their own backyard.” Like many Hunts Point teens, Walker had a long daily commute to her high school, in Chelsea.
She aspires to a career in environmental leadership and community development, and wishes that the Hunts Point High School had been an option for her. “It would have been nice to have an academic background in environmental studies, as well as an after-school one,” when applying to college, said Walker, who has been accepted to a BA/BFA program in environmental studies and photography at Parsons School of Design.
With the help of Mothers on the Move, the school will also train parents in its classrooms on weekends, instructing them in nutrition and involving them in the school’s garden.
The school has also found an industry partner in Green Living Technologies, a six-year-old firm based in Rochester that manufactures the infrastructure for green roods and trellis systems for growing plants. The company is already advertising the school on its website, and is committed to building manufacturing plants in the South Bronx, as well as hiring graduates of Hunts Point High School and other local residents.
In addition to standard academic subjects, the school will teach students about urban agriculture, green roofs and walls, green technology installation and maintenance, research and development, and environmental remediation. Students will also be offered honors and College Now classes, internships and such electives as technical drawing, photography, advertising design, and filmmaking.
In keeping with the Career Technical aspect of the school, students will have the opportunity to be certified in first aid and CPR, hazardous waste cleanup and herbicide and pesticide application, among several others relevant to the industry, and will be able to take classes at the New York Botanical Garden in subjects like horticulture, composting, ecology and wetland restoration.
Ritz hopes students will participate in a booming extra-curricular schedule, as well. The school will offer clubs and teams—including a crew that would practice on the Bronx River–in addition to activist programs.
In a letter to then-Schools Chancellor Cathie Black urging the Department of Education to approve the school, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. called it a “model of community urban education,” that affords “living wage opportunities” and supports “sustainable planning.”
The school also has won the unanimous support of Community Board 2.
According to Jamie Cloud, founder and president of The Cloud Institute, “school officials have agreed that the school should open in 2012 in a space in or near Hunts Point, but a spokesman for the education department would not comment, saying the proposal had not yet completed the approval process.
Nevertheless, says Ritz, a search is underway for a principal, and plans call for the post to be filled by June. Ritz himself will remain involved as leader of the school’s Career Technical Education program and of partnership development with external organizations and companies.
One possible location for the school is the former Spofford Juvenile Detention Center, which was closed in March.
“We would love to see that happen,” said Ritz, noting that repurposing a jail would fit with the goal of changing “the cradle to prison mentality of the South Bronx.”
If more students graduate from high school prepared for living-wage jobs or college, fewer jails will be necessary, he continued. A symbol of that new direction, Ritz said will be the absence of metal detectors at the doors, a feature that appeals to 17-year-old Teresa Rivera.
“It’s like public schools these days are preparing you for jail,” she said. “This school will be enlightening.”
The school’s goal will be to become “a high school destination, a preeminent school of choice that serves the community first,” Ritz summed up. Rivera would agree: she hopes her younger brother, who will be entering high school in 2012, will apply.
“Kids should be able to live, learn and earn in their own community,” says Ritz. “We’re poised, willing and able to pursue that.”