The YEZ at Banana Kelly: Sustainability at Bronx Community College

By Stephanie Gilman, Program Manager

We’ve touched upon the central goal of buildOn’s Youth Engagement Zone at Banana Kelly in the past: We want to inspire a new generation of Bronx natives to draw what strength they can from their surroundings and reform the issues that have held their neighborhoods back from prosperity. Before that can occur, however, some shape must be given to the social problems that our students interact with on a daily basis. And our 9th grade service learning projects are in part designed to sharpen our students’ perspectives on this matter — what would they change, if they had the power to?

On Wednesday, March 16th, Banana Kelly’s entire 9th grade class along with a group of teachers rode the 25 minute subway ride to the Bronx Community College’s Center for Sustainable Energy. The CSE is a green think-tank attempting to implement a host of clean energy practices not only across the CUNY college system but throughout New York City.

[pullquote]Many members of Banana Kelly’s 9th grade class noted that the college students they encountered didn’t look too different from them.[/pullquote]

We collaboratively planned this service learning trip to introduce our students both to the experience of college education and to the elasticity of the sustainability concept. After all, sustainability isn’t only achieved through solar energy and hybrid cars. It’s achieved through strengthening communities and fostering a sense of social responsibility. Poverty and violence, much like pollution, are not sustainable approaches to living.

It was truly exciting to watch the students interact with the Bronx Community College campus; their intrigue was apparent as soon as they stepped onto the grounds. I could see them processing the differences between the college and their own high school — and the similarities as well. Many members of Banana Kelly’s 9th grade class noted that the college students they encountered didn’t look too different from them; I think seeing individuals near their age group wandering the campus made the idea of college more approachable.

Jameelah Muhammad, the director of the Center for Sustainable Energy, provided an introduction to college life and higher education before launching into a crash course in sustainable practice. Sustainability was introduced first and foremost as a concept integral to community survival, and the students responded by considering what in their neighborhoods could be transformed for the long term.

The 9th graders then broke up into three groups and collaborated on posters, improvisational role-playing sketches, and activism action plans that explored sustainable ideas they could implement in their communities. With the sketches, they illustrated how they might approach violent situations calmly and patiently. Another student, Rudy, was so engaged in his poster project that he rejected his original draft, focused, and completed a superior second attempt.

[pullquote]The 9th graders explored sustainable ideas with posters, improvisational role-playing sketches, and activism action plans.[/pullquote]

Two other students developed an activism strategy called “Guns for Trees”: A program that would allow individuals to trade their firearms for an earth-ready sapling. I was impressed by how this plan in particular successfully integrated two separate sustainability concepts–environmentalism and pacifism–as if to suggest that the opposite of violence isn’t merely calm understanding but a desire to promote healthy living. The future of the Bronx lies in the hands of students such as these who recognize that bullets are no match for birch.