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.
Green Bronx Machine is a radical organisation that evolved from an after-school programme to a full K12 model integrated into the core curriculum. By transforming an under-utilized school library into a Wellness Centre, creator Stephen Ritz teaches students about the art and science of growing vegetables indoors with low cost replicable technology.
The Wellness Centre is placed at the heart of a community school and all students have the opportunity to learn in the garden. As well as sessions before and after school, classes are timetabled to attend the Green Bronx Machine as part of their normal school day. Children who don’t always want to be taught change their attitudes because of the environment they’re in.
The Green Bronx Machine shows that healthy students help drive healthy schools. Students learn to grow, cook and eat vegetables at the indoor teaching garden, while getting outstanding daily instruction in core content areas. Guided by the Green Bronx Machine Classroom Curriculum, teachers have access to state-of-the-art lessons and resources that support growing and learning in class. Through this hands-on education, students have lost weight and reduced sugar intake, as well as developing resilience and a positive attitude to school.
As health has improved, so too has learning and school performance. Attendance has dramatically increased from 40% to 93%. The multi-award winning programme is aligned with maths, science and writing, and has seen pass rates on state science exams improve by 45%.
Not only has the Green Bronx Machine had an incredible impact on school performance, but it has also had a positive effect on the wider community. In a neighbourhood where fresh vegetables are expensive and hard to come by, students are taking home bags of groceries every week.
Green Bronx Machine has received several awards and acknowledgments, such as Best of Green School Award and the New York Strategic Alliance Award of Excellence.
During the COVID-19 Crisis, we have been directly supporting our students and their families with food and educational programming, including:
1. We have provided weekly, door to door, grocery delivery for 26 patients of Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital who are recovering from cancer and are food insecure. Additionally, we provide weekly groceries, door to door, for 55 of the most vulnerable families in the Bronx across a 26 mile route including walk-up buildings. To date, we have completed 584 deliveries of over 14,000 pounds of reclaimed and captured food.
2. Supported the sourcing, plating and delivery of 2,200 meals daily in public housing.
3. Provided nightly tutorials to 25 of the most at-risk elementary school children via the internet and social media.
4. Provided daily interactive read alongs, storytime, and vocabulary building activities via the internet; complete with free manipulatives, free books, and free school supplies delivered to homes.
5. Provided instructional support and teacher development via internet and Zoom for teachers - FREE OF CHARGE - our lessons have touched up to 20,000 professionals and partners at a time.
6. PLANTING HOPE - GBM along with community volunteers and students planted the largest organic soil farm in the Bronx - ALL SOCIALLY DISTANT - with 100% of food grown going to support families and additionally, will be providing over 10,000 seedlings to NYCHA - public housing, Senior Centers, and local residents interested in growing food for consumption in high need communities. We continue to host our students and community at the farm in socially distant and responsible activities.
7. YOU CANNOT EAT A LAPTOP - We applaud the commitment to distance learning, but devices are not enough! Thus, we have started the first after school cooking program in NYC with children that delivers groceries and ingredients door to door on Tuesdays and then convenes online on Wednesdays afterschool via Zoom to cook ENSURING THAT EVERY CHILD AND EVERY FAMILY HAS ALL THE INGREDIENTS AND CAN PARTICIPATE FULLY! We have screens full of happy children and wholly engaged families.