Grow to Remember

From September 9th - 12th, 2011, students, parents, teachers, and local supporters of the New York French American Charter School (NYFACS) will begin working together to plant “seeds of change” in our newly constructed educational urban garden, as well as in each other's hearts and minds, in remembrance of those who lost their lives on 9/11 and in honor of those who have risked their lives during the recovery efforts over the past decade.

NYFACS is located on 120th Street between Manhattan Ave. and Fredrick Douglas Ave., in the heart of Harlem, NYC, and is an innovative bilingual charter school dedicated to working with its students, their families, and the community to strengthen cognitive, creative, and communication skills in both French and English. This fall, we will be entering our second full year of operation, and we will be adding one grade level each year. This summer, as part of our summer school program, we have worked very closely with 40 of our students in an interactive, thematic-based curriculum centered on "Growth & Empowerment." The curriculum’s primary focus is on urban gardening as well as on creating physical, mental, spiritual, and community health. The centerpiece of the program is engaging the students in the development of structural designs for, as well the planting of the first seedlings for our very own educational urban garden which will be constructed both in our street level playground and on our roof-top. We ultimately plan to use both levels of the garden as experiential teaching tools for a wide array of school subjects including math, science, writing, linguistics, and health/PE. More importantly, however, by engaging our students and their families in the design and development of this garden, we strive to instill in them a sense of personal and collective responsibility for the health and growth of this project, of their school, their community, and themselves. And as citizens of the NYC community, we plan to commemorate the 10th Anniversary of 9/11 by officially kicking off this initiative in recognition of the many heroes who have been dedicated to rebuilding our city from the ground up.

From September 9th-12th, NYFACS staff and our "young gardeners", or "Jeunes Jardiners", will lead workshops for, and work with the 213 students of our school and their families, along with volunteers from Bronx Community College, Borough of Manhattan Community College, Temple University, Churchill high school, Bronx Guild high school, and finally, supportive members of the surrounding community to build the foundation for our garden as part of the 9/11 Day of Service & Remembrance. By doing so, we will engage the participants’ minds and bodies in the process of learning from our past to build a brighter future.

NYFACS farm managers/young leaders, all of whom are young people, will facilitate workshops involving all students, teachers, parents, community supporters and outside volunteers to discuss the historical significance of 9/11 and the importance of remembering the courage of those who risked and, in many cases, lost their lives on that tragic day and in its aftermath. As part of these workshops, we will also discuss the importance of cross-cultural communication and partnerships, diversity, solidarity, and community to successfully create a positive change in our world. Each of these day will culminate with afternoons of service during which all participants (an estimated 350 people) will help lay the foundation for the schools new urban garden. We will set up compost bins, so that we can recycle food waste throughout the year and create our own soil. We will also set up a water catchment system to collect water for our plants. Finally, we will build 40 raised beds, which we will fill with soil and plant our first seedlings, as well as an out-door classroom to go with it. 

This 9/11 Day of Service & Remembrance will not only instill the story and the life lessons of 9/11 in the memories of our young people and their families, but will also plant seeds of change in their hearts and minds that will immediately empower them to begin harvesting their own visions for the development of their own communities. Ultimately, our garden will be a symbol of how people of all ages, cultures, and (most importantly for our bilingual program) linguistic backgrounds can come together to create a healthier, more sustainable world.

Ultimately, our plan is for our garden to eventually reach complete economic self-sufficiency. Once we have fully developed our roof-top garden, we plan to reach full production by Spring 2012 (one and one half years from our initiation ceremony), at which point we will work with our students to sell 50% of our produce to local markets in order to generate revenue so that we can consistently reach our goal. In other words, we plan for the garden to eventually fund itself, and even become an additional, self-sustaining source of revenue for the school.

Our urban garden will primarily function as an educational center for our students, and economic tool for our school as a whole. However, as an evolving model of urban sustainability, we plan to incorporate our community partners into the activities and initiatives of the garden. Thus, our garden will also function as a training center for our closest neighbors. We will run afterschool and weekend workshops that will challenge participants to analyze the various dimensions of our rapidly urbanizing world, industrializing food system, and disempowered inner-city communities such as Harlem. The workshops will also give them hands-on experience in our garden in order to provide them with skills, resources, and knowledge of urban agriculture, grass-roots community organization, small business management, and curriculum development. By doing so, we can all begin to harvest our own vision for the redevelopment of our communities and our city, and acquire the skills necessary to transform these visions into realities. Thus, the sense of empowerment that we plan to instill in our students through this garden will spread far beyond our school's physical limits and will inspire the people in the surrounding neighborhood, so that we can collectively begin rebuilding our local community and our city from the ground up.