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From the Bronx to the World: Compassion is the New Curriculum

7.4.2021 | BY STEPHEN RITZ

Green Bronx Machine is a radical organization that evolved from an after-school program to a full K12 model integrated into the core curriculum. The Bronx is the least healthy county in New York State, with the highest rates of childhood obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Most children qualify for free school meals and their families are in receipt of food stamps. These serious levels of food insecurity contribute to decreased engagement in school. Moreover, there is a need for school improvement and teacher training. High levels of absence lead to low rates of high school graduation and chronic unemployment. 

In this article, HundrED Innovator Stephen Ritz, founder of Green Bronx Machine, acclaimed educator, and author reflects on 2020 and shares his hopes for the future of education. 


Let's call it what it is: 2020 was the year that blew the roof off everything and 2021 seems determined to top it! 

We learned just how broken things are - justice, food systems, education systems, healthcare systems, political systems - trauma abounded everywhere. Things we either took for granted for years or never even thought about suddenly became front and center. And one thing was certain: in 2020, nothing was more important than our children - especially as they were home with us 24/7! It will take a long time to heal and make our children and communities whole. My recent talk at VERGE reminded everyone that it all starts in schools, board rooms, and with each and every one of us; that equity, opportunity, and justice should be our common destinations, that compassion is the new curriculum. 

As we pass a tragic one-year milestone of the pandemic, I’m continually inspired by folks’ abilities to drip kindness into their corners of the world. To all of you, I say thank you! 


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For years, it was easy (and preferable) to have our children on schedule – send them to school, table them in charts, rank their data, their standings, their test scores – until homes became schools and kitchen tables became classrooms! The pandemic made it abundantly clear that students and teachers are far more than the sum of their data and test scores; TEACHERS MATTER AND TEACHERS CHANGE LIVES! Together with parents, government agencies, and dedicated companies, we all worked to put unity into our communities - bridging food, education, nutrition, justice, the environment - every aspect of our collective ecosystem together in an attempt to grow something greater and heal our corners of the world. I want to thank the staff at Civil Eats for highlighting what is possible when we all pull together to grow our spheres of import, impact, progress, purpose, and independence despite the challenges of 2020

With all that has transpired and still yet to come - now is the time for our children to become happy children and whole children; joyous kiddos who understand that they are part of living breathing ecosystems, that what they eat, what they learn, what they do, how they act and who they are matter in BIG, BIG, BIG, meaningful WAYS - and that we all share in that responsibility and have a critical part to play! At the heart of this global shift is food. I’ve always said: 

“The most important school supply in the world is food!” 

Anyone who has taught hungry children, malnourished children, and even children destined to thrive knows that children will never be well-read if they are not well fed! Input equals output. I’m personally grateful to the Whole Kids Foundation for this amazing article highlighting the work of Green Bronx Machine, a Spotlight HundrED Program. No article was more succinct in connecting the relationship between food and school performance than this recent feature in Eating Well Magazine.

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Make no doubt about it, the work ahead is formidable - it demands healing, compassion, empathy, patience, fortitude, and courage. As we say in the South Bronx and in communities around the world: Education not Asphyxiation – it is time to breathe life into all we do and all we are. Our collective integrity of purpose and integrity of promise allows us to be the light inside of our tunnels, instead of the light we seek at the end. Nobody can do everything, but everyone can do something and the degree to which we each resist injustice is the degree to which we are all free!

One thousand years from now, people will look back at this moment as one of the greatest inflection points in our existence for people, planet, and prosperity. How are you responding? All of our drips of kindness can create the wave of passion, purpose, and hope we’ve been waiting for to get us not “back to normal” but instead to far, far better! We could not be prouder of our new documentary, Generation Growth, highlighting teacher, student, parent, and community heroes across the nation. From the Bronx - to the world! Truly, this is our collective moment as people and as a profession. 

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Let us always remember: #diversity is a fact, #equity is a choice, #inclusion is an action, and belonging is an outcome. Crises are for the moment, but humanity is for a lifetime. I urge everyone to do something today that you and your future self will thank you for. Together, we can do this, one drip at a time: MAKE EPIC HAPPEN!

This article is part of a two-part series on promoting healthy eating habits in students for World Health Day you can find the other article here.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Stephen Ritz - is an internationally acclaimed, award-winning educator, author of the best-selling book, The Power Of A Plant and Founder of Green Bronx Machine. Known as America's favorite teacher, Stephen is responsible for creating the first edible classroom in the world. He and his students have grown more than 100,000 pounds of vegetables in the South Bronx, have been celebrated at the Obama White House three times, have been featured on the cover of TIME for KIDS and are the subject of a new, full-feature documentary, Generation Growth. Stephen was just awarded the 2020 Change-Maker Award by NYC Food Policy Center for his work, advocacy, and impact in public schools across NYC and America! Follow Stephen on TwitterInstagram, and on LinkedIn.