As both a teacher and mother I have seen the wonder and amazement of a job completed and well done on the faces of children. Introducing ownership of a task both begun and finished is a productive and responsible way to foster a sense of integrity and accomplishment that can be applied to every walk of life: and growing a classroom garden is an amazing way to illustrate this point.
“The single biggest prognosticator for a child’s success in life is having access to one kind [and] caring adult,” and Stephen Ritz, a long time Bronx, New York resident and teacher, is determined to be that person to his students and to his community.
Stephen found himself teaching in one of the most violent high schools in New York shortly after personal tragedy stuck his own family. He became inspired in his journey of influence after hundreds of neglected and forgotten daffodil bulbs he had stashed behind a radiator bloomed into existence and were discovered by his students – motivating him to recognize a symbolic lesson to use within his classroom. And thus, was born the Green Bronx Machine.
In an area that held thousands of people per building with no supermarkets, and where sustenance came from 20 foot by 20-foot buildings stocked with “manufactured, edible, synthetic substances”; Stephen realized the importance of needing something of worth moving both in and out of the community.
Starting with simple gardening and landscaping, his students and community volunteers quickly moved on to food production and job opportunities- all driven by his students year after year who were required to be part of some sort of gardening project to open their minds, and see more than what was marketed to them on the streets of New York.
This successful project has not only highlighted the determination, growth, and resilience of the many gardens growing within this concrete city but of his students and community citizens as well.