The YEZ at Banana Kelly: Students Plant Trees in an Abandoned Lot and Gain Environmental Perspective
By Stephanie Gilman, Program Manager
For the last two weeks my blog posts have described specific service learning activities at Banana Kelly’s Youth Engagement Zone. The goal of these, as we’ve seen, is to engage our students within their own environments and expose them to opportunities for success. Our internships, for example, are preparing participants for conflicts in the workplace. And a recent trip to Bronx Community College taught the importance of sustainable living while suggesting that higher education is well within the reach of those who want it.
[pullquote]Our day engaged 65 students who, throughout a total of 99 hours of service learning, planted 80 trees and 1,000 herbaceous plants.[/pullquote]
This week, however, our service project encouraged not only interaction with our surrounding Bronx community but environmental awareness. Partnering with MillionTreesNYC, on April 6th we brought the entire 9th grade class to Garrison Park to plant trees. Garrison Park is a former “brown-field” site—essentially an abandoned, unused lot–and I knew the students would respond to the themes of rejuvenation and communal strength implicit in this task. Our day engaged 65 students who, throughout a total of 99 hours of service learning, planted 80 trees and 1,000 herbaceous plants. These included green ash, birch, red oak, swamp white oak, aspen and persimmon trees as well as asters, goldenrod, clover, sunflowers and Joe Pye weed.
MillionTreesNYC is a citywide program with an ambitious goal. Over the next decade they plan to plant and care for one million new trees across New York City’s five boroughs. “New York City is growing!” They point out. “But, like in any thriving metropolis, it’s important to make sure the Big Apple and its residents—meaning you!—are healthy and happy while adjusting to the growth and the many changes it will bring with it.” We shared MillionTreesNYC’s mission statement with the 9th grade class in preparation materials, and made the connection between plant life and cleaner air that could help a myriad of local health issues, such as asthma.
On the day of the service project, the MillionTreesNYC crew was there, led by Jason Stein. He again emphasized the importance of the work they were going to be doing, and made the connection between the environment and health. The students thrust themselves into the activity itself with passion; a few competed with one another for the honor of “most trees planted” for the day, and one expressed his intimacy with the project by calling his sapling “Daniel” after his brother. These trees aren’t just decor; they’re organic equals, like family.
[pullquote]On his way to the park, Danny Garcia announced “I don’t plant trees”. Garcia planted five saplings throughout the day and bragged about his accomplishment.[/pullquote]
The hands-on intimacy required by the project instilled a strong sense of personal pride–even students who were resistant to plant at first were won over by the chance to help build a brighter future for the Bronx and nurture life in a previously barren location. On his way to the park, Danny Garcia announced “I don’t plant trees”. Garcia planted five saplings throughout the day and bragged about his accomplishment. Another initially hesitant student, Elliot Patterson, approached me the day after the project. “When can we go back to see how are trees are doing?” he asked. I would not be surprised to see our students returning to places like Garrison Park year after year to see the fruit that their outreach has yielded.