Offered a Hunts Point home, school needs city’s OK

Photo by Lizette Ritz

Stephen Ritz, advocate for the school, on a South Bronx green roof.

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.

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  1. Have seen the work being done by these kids and by Steve and associates on their behalf, and think this really exemplifies the principles of “Change we can Believe in”. This school is a great idea, waiting for a *green* light!

  2. The Green Wall Editor says:

    Steve’s drive and success he has with these students is unmatched. His success was the driving force to our committed support for such a program. There is a national thirst for sustainable and green educational programs. Just recent some of the higher education facilities include schools like Illinois State University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the University of California-Berkeley are also seeing big demand for green-geared programs (USA Today). It is very powerful that a Steve has implemented such a program that rivals major universities and offer it to students right in his backyard…….The Bronx, NYC…..what should be one of the epicenters of Green Education, implementation and development. I’m thankful for the day we see students graduate from the Hunts Point High School knowing they have the Green Job Skills to provide an instant value added to any company. We look forward to the final approval!!!

  3. That photo of Mr.Ritz above shows him to be the action-ready fellow he is at heart. We are fortunate he chose teaching as one of his careers. I love my former student (BxScience’84) and what she can represent as a role model for Bronx youth But…. I think it was premature to expect our relatively Conservative Mayor’s NYC Schools Dep’t to accept such a name for a HS. Even Green * in The Bronx.
    She’s young. Give Majora a few more years to establish a legacy. I’ll say more in other comments, but I must offer more than kudos to Prof.B.Stein and his students. This is one of the few papers I read cover to cover. ***mricle***

  4. I think it’s a great idea for a school. We need more schools that teach education with a purpose.

  5. Only good things can come about with a school like this, I know students will want to come in because of all they will learn and because they will know that what they are learning is relevant to the world they live in. I believe this is why allot of talented kids drop out of school…it’s because they don’t see the relevance between school and their lives.
    Creating a school that will teach students how to work with these technologies will make them want to come to school and will make school enjoyable.
    Not only will this school help train students for these jobs but it will also make students realize all of the pollution and waste that is being done in our area and eventually will cause a conscious change in their actions and eventually they can influence others to do the same.
    We must give our full support to people that propose this type of change.
    I think this is a great idea for a school and feel that we should be demanding this!!

  6. I have been fortunate enough to have toured The Point Community Center and to have met Mr. Ritz.
    An amazing, inspiring place with even more amazing and inspiring students and staff. Based on Mr Ritz’s past successes and his committment to bettering the lives of all of the kids he meets this school is a no-brainer! The potential to have a cutting edge educational facility in the poorest congressional district in the U.S. alone should be enough to seal the deal.
    The Dept of Education should feel priveleged to have the opportunity to support such an endeavor. This is a win-win for all involved especially the students. Think about how much better off our society will be beginning with the first graduating class from this school!!! I can’t wait!!!

  7. The youth are so often left out of discussions, let alone solutions. We, the residents of the Bronx, from ALL walks of life are also VERY accustomed to being left out, having to fight, struggle, even pry to find out what is being done “to us.” Now here we have LOCAL people with LOCAL solutions collaborating across educational, economic and social levels for OUR collective benefit. I don’t understand what the problem is? Why isn’t this a no-brainer? Why the resistance to having local folks make local choices for the collective LOCAL community, youth, education, future?

    How many charter schools are approved and successfully open their doors (usually in NYC Public School BUILDINGS!) in “underserved” communities by folks who have NO connection to the communities either the past or future, except as a place to “try out” what they “believe” might work. Sounds like experiments, no? If it goes good – GREAT. If it bombs, its called a “learning experience” and those folks move on.

    Let’s look at the players involved here: Steve Ritz, The Point, Sustainable South Bronx, Mothers on the Move, Majora Carter – THIS IS THE BRONX, these are faces & voices of THE BRONX….FACES who are PRESENT, VOICES that are SPEAKING about TANGIBLE SOLUTIONS.

    I am bewildered – NYC Dept of Ed – what is the problem? As a life long Bronx resident, someone who left for education & CHOSE to return as many others who are committed, a NYC Public School parent & advocate for well over a decade, let me reassure you – We in the Bronx are CAPABLE, COMMITTED and READY. Why deny Bronx youth an education that can CHANGE their lives, futures, communities & families? Shame on you NYC DEPT OF ED.

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