Education / Environment

Neighborhood voices: Hyde students show their skills in Washington

Students and faculty from Hyde Leadership Charter School and Washington’s Latin Public High School.

Last December, teacher Peter Findler and his environmental club reached out to local educator Stephen Ritz, the “Green Dean” of Hyde Leadership Charter School, and invited him and his students to his Washington high school.

Thanks to a grant from the Qatar Foundation International, fourth- and fifth-grade “Leadership Lions” from Hyde traveled to Washington to teach indoor urban farming at Washington Latin Public High School. They showed off “state of the art aeroponic” technology –a way of growing plants without soil. Their example was Tower Gardens, championed in Hunts Point at JVL Wildcat Academy.

The students called the visit a once-in-a-lifetime experience–both to give and to receive.

Selected by their peers, the Leadership Lions toured local farms in Hunts Point, traveled and met Amish farmers and industrial growers across Pennsylvania. They also toured a variety of Washington sights, stayed in a gorgeous hotel, visited farmer’s markets, received an insider VIP tour of Whole Foods on P Street, where they shopped, made salads and received goodie bags.

Then they taught school!

They built Tower Gardens with the high school students. Then they and their teacher presented to the entire high school before sharing a healthy lunch and locally-grown salad.

Hyde students and their DC counterparts were even featured in a video submitted in a national contest. Ritz likes to say, “It all starts with seeds. The kids are my seeds, and having our students work with JVL students and students in DC is proof of what we are sowing and growing here in our village.”

As fourth grader Armani Harris said, “I’m proud and happy I was able to attend.” His fifth grade roommate for the trip, Geovany Benitez added, “This technology is easy to use and to build,” while nine year old Andrelis Pena said, “With Tower Gardening, we can grow a whole variety of fruits and vegetables all in one place while in school.”

Chanting: “lettuce, turnip, the beet,” fifth-grader Idiatou Diallo added, “Who wouldn’t want to grow food in school?” Her roommate Jackeline Saldana wants everyone to know that “this is fun, easy and there is really so much to learn”

Nine-year-old Anirais Cruz noted that “Students everywhere, from NYC to Washington, all need healthy food!”

Rooming in a hotel, ordering meals, budgeting money, navigating the Metro and planning lessons allowed the students to envision what life could and should be once they graduate from high school and move to the world beyond.

Lessons learned were numerous and that younger students could teach older students created a dynamic of respect, curiosity and peer to peer support that was infectious, so much so that the students wrote letters to one another thanking them for their participation. What they left behind included an indoor farm, good will and a sense of accomplishment.

“These young scholars represent our school, our community and the ‘New Bronx’ in ways we can all be proud of, said Ritz. “The next generation of healthy local citizens, role models. They are 21st Century solutionaries!”

About the authors:

Anirais Cruz lives on Coster Street. Her favorite veggie is cucumber, her new favorite food is sushi. Her parents are from Mexico. She wants to be a math teacher.

Idiatou Diallo lives on Lafayette Avenue. Her favorite vegetable is corn, her new favorite food is pomegranate. Her parents are from Senegal and Guinea. She is deciding between being President or an astronaut.

Geovany Benitez lives on Seneca Avenue. His favorite vegetable is broccoli, his new favorite food is pomegranate. His parents are from Mexico. He wants to be a lawyer.

Armani Harris lives on Randall Avenue. His favorite vegetable is asparagus, his new favorite food is sushi. His parents are “All-American.”  He wants to be a scientist or a foreign ambassador, maybe Mayor!

Andrelis Pena lives on Hunts Point Avenue. Her favorite vegetable is Butter Crunch Lettuce, her new favorite food is pomegranate. her parents are from the Dominican Republic . She wants to be a chef and gourmet restaurant owner.

Jackeline Saldana lives on Beck Street. Her favorite vegetable is baby carrots. Her new favorite vegetable is cherry tomatoes. Her parents are from Mexico. She wants to be a lawyer or a writer.

The students shared their notes with Ritz and met with him several times to compose this article. Ritz put it together and edited it.

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