The YEZ at Banana Kelly: Students Make Impressionistic Maps that Analyze Bronx Neighborhoods
By Stephanie Gilman, Program Manager
The objective of the service learning we complete at Banana Kelly’s Youth Engagement Zone is a challenging one: We seek to engage students who have reason to be deeply disengaged. Some of them have chaotic home lives, others are disillusioned by the violence and crime rampant in their neighborhoods — all of which, naturally, affects academic performance. Our school-wide service days are an attempt to transcend some of these issues by encouraging students to ask questions about the difficult environments they inhabit.
We’ve now engaged the entirety of Banana Kelly High School — meaning all students and all teachers — in three full service days, and each one has built upon the goals and methodology of the last. Our first took place right before 2010’s winter break, and was conducted entirely in-class: Students made alphabet “Books of Hope” for villagers in Haiti, as well as holiday cards for senior citizens in the area. The next project, Paint4Change, was a mural painting activity held on February 18th, and took Banana Kelly out of the classroom while remaining within school grounds.
[pullquote]At our most recent service day, the high school’s entire student body and teaching staff left the campus to interact more intimately with the Bronx. [/pullquote]
On April 15th, however, at our most recent service day, the high school’s entire student body and teaching staff left the campus to interact more intimately with the Bronx. Groups of 9th and 10th graders were each assigned city blocks to observe; they recorded their impressions, created artistic maps, and shared their vision for future community development. 11th and 12th graders spent the day working in local gardens such as William Rainey Garden, Brook Garden, Padre Plaza, and La Finca Del Sur Urban Farm.
With the neighborhood map exercise in particular, students who would not typically be engaged in service or inquiry-based learning considered like never before what makes a city functional. Brittany Williams noted in her observations the lack of plant life on the street she visited; she further concluded that the addition of trees could change the block merely “by blooming”. Another student, Jaylene David, wrote that she thought nothing was “good about the neighborhood because of the trash everywhere”. Responding to the question “What is missing,” she simply said “People who care.”
We reminded each of the 9th and 10th graders that Banana Kelly is full of people who do care — people able to make a difference. While the younger grades examined their community, the upper grades worked in it, illustrating the important connection between observation, planning, and action.
[pullquote]While the younger grades examined their community, the upper grades worked in it, illustrating the important connection between observation, planning, and action.[/pullquote]
After the service portion of the day the entire school was rewarded with a pizza lunch, and even students who normally avoid the cafeteria could be seen eating alongside their classmates. Teachers, too, approached me afterward, saying they felt that “hanging out” with their students and “sharing the experience” of the day ineffably strengthened their relationships with them. Indeed, though the school was empty for a few hours while outside neighborhoods were visited, the community of Banana Kelly may have been developed most profoundly.