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Green Bronx Machine: One Teacher’s Quest for Student Health and Brilliance

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“I love teaching because every day I get to do something great! Every day I get to lead children and colleagues on a new quest, we get to do something new, we practice, we dream, we learn and we work together! I’m also the oldest sixth grader you’ll ever meet; inherently, I too am very curious and easily excited — it’s a perfect storm!” — Stephen Ritz

IMG_0205 ritz in gardenStephen Ritz, a Global Teacher Prize Top 10 Finalist, teaches in Public School 55 in New York City’s South Bronx, the poorest Congressional District in America. His big idea is to grow food indoors and outdoors all year round, using a new technology that is low cost and requires 90% less space and 90% less water.

His students have installed over 100 gardens in New York City alone, establishing a food production business that helps achieve food security and urban renewal whilst teaching students key skills at the same time. The new school culture creates a place where people want to work and learn. The result is that local crime has fallen significantly.

Daily attendance is up from 40% to 93% (amazing!), with the school achieving 100% passing rates on standardised tests, increased graduation rates, and multi-year jumps on standardised tests in reading and math with multiple cohorts. Bravo to the school for experiencing its first year of teacher applications from teachers who want to be there, who are excited about the turnaround, and are having lunch with the kids!

Last March, Mr. Ritz was chosen as a Teacher Prize Top 10 Finalist to honour his incredible efforts. Ritz, like all of the Top 10 Finalists, received a $25,000 grant to develop his career. He used the money to start a National Health and Wellness Center at his school. The name of the center? The Green Bronx Machine.

The story of how he started this center is energizing and was inspired by his own personal journey as much as a love for his students. The Global Teacher Prize’s grant enabled him to dedicate all his time to the school and buy equipment for the school, as well as books for the school library. He is also in continuous contact with the other inspiring and dedicated finalists, including the 2015 Global Teacher Prize winner Nancie Atwell, learning from them and benefiting from their advice.

The Green Bronx Machine is based on Ritz’s concept that education depends on healthy students. Teachers and students are planting clean vegetables in the new center. Energy for plants towers are generated by bicycles, as a clean source of energy. Cooking classes for adults are provided, so parents can learn how to cook healthy food at home. And the grown vegetables are used in school meals and can be taken home by students!

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Vegetables are planted in towers to save space.

IMG_0335Bikes are used to generate electricity for the plant towers.

01Vegetables are used in school meals and can be taken home by students.

IMG_0283Some of the awards which Stephen Ritz has received.

The Global Teacher Prize team visited Stephen recently in NYC and took a tour of the Green Bronx Machine. Together we discussed new developments at his school and the impact that the Global Teacher Prize and the finalist grant has had on his school.

Have you seen a change in perception of PS55 since the Global Teacher Prize?

Can you tell us about any new community projects?

Can you update us on PS55’s latest developments?

Follow Green Bronx Machine on Twitter to keep up with their exciting news!

The Global Teacher Prize is an annual 1 million dollar award that will be given to an exceptional teacher who has made an outstanding contribution to the profession. The Varkey Foundation established the Prize in 2014 to raise the stature of the teaching profession so that children will dream of becoming the greatest teacher in the world.

We seek to celebrate great teachers — those who inspire their students and community around them. The Foundation believes that vibrant education awakens and supports the full potential of young people. Applications and nominations to the 2016 prize are still open until this Sunday October 18.

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