Monday, February 8, 2010

A High School For Green Teens

Excerpted below is a delightful and inspiring story of green community leadership from the weblog titled, The Green Fork on the Eat Well Guide, website, a free online directory for anyone in search of fresh, locally grown and sustainably produced food in the United States and Canada.

A High School For Green Teens
February 4th, 2010 by kerry

With unemployment in the dismal double digits, there’s a lot of chanting and ranting about jobs right now. China’s cleaning our clock when it comes to clean tech, even as its growth continues to rely on dirty ol’ coal. And so does ours, for that matter. The difference is that China’s forging ahead with alternative energy while we bury our heads in the tar sands.

Our national unemployment rate seems stuck at 10 percent and in some urban areas, it’s risen above 15 percent, according to CNN. Creating more jobs is clearly job number one. But what color will those jobs be? A generation or so ago, jobs came in just two basic colors: blue collar and white. Now, we’ve got one black-collared Jobs, trotting out another supposedly game-changing gadget in his trademark mock turtleneck (color Pee Wee Herman among the unimpressed ).

The real game changer, though, is the thousands of green jobs we could be creating, if only we’d reallocate our deficit-depleted resources. And the Steve showing us how to do this is named Ritz, not Jobs.

Steve Ritz is a trail-blazing teacher with an impressive track record of achievement working with students in one of the most challenging environments in New York City, the South Bronx–that eternally dumped-on borough whose name is synonymous with urban blight.

Ritz has figured out how to grow good food, good jobs and good citizens by tapping into one of our greatest wasted resources–urban youth. And he’s doing it in Hunts Point, a quintessential “food desert” that, ironically, just happens to also be one of the world’s largest food distribution centers; 2.7 billion pounds of fresh produce from 49 states and 55 foreign countries passes through Hunts Point’s New York City Terminal Market annually on its way to more affluent neighborhoods.

Sadly, those endless truckloads of fresh fruits and vegetables don’t do the locals much good. In fact, all the fumes from that commerce contribute to the South Bronx’s extraordinarily high rate of respiratory illness, with a death rate from asthma that’s about three times the national average.

Hunts Point is also part of the poorest congressional district in the country, with over half the population living below the poverty line. The unemployment rate is at a whopping 28 percent. And the neighborhood’s 41st police precinct consistently records the highest violent crime rate per capita in New York City.

Undaunted by these grim statistics, Ritz took classes with a 40 percent attendance rate and brought them up to 93 percent. More remarkably still, his students have consistently achieved 100% passing grades on the state Regents exams in math and science.

Ritz’s current goal is to establish the Hunts Point High School for Sustainable Community Initiatives, an open enrollment NYC public school that would train local youth in emerging fields such as green roofing, urban agriculture, natural resource management, brown field remediation–in short, all the 21st century post-petroleum vocations in which our labor force needs to be skilled.

At his current position teaching at the Discovery High School in the Bronx, Ritz just oversaw the installation of a living, edible green wall in partnership with a for-profit enterprise called Green Living Technologies, a pioneering developer of cutting edge urban agricultural systems.

Green Living Technologies is sponsoring a team of Ritz’s students, bringing them to Boston later this month “to be the first high school students in America to be trained and certified as green wall and green roof installers,” Ritz told me, adding that this is “proof that we are poised, ready, willing and able to export our talent and diversity nationally as we transform the landscape and mindset of the South Bronx.”

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