Stephen Ritz is making waves by engaging students through urban farming — from his classroom in the South Bronx. With his contagious, positive outlook and keeping the work practical and relatable, he’s brought some of his students from “Crack to Cucumbers.” It’s impossible not to smile while speaking with this celebrated educator and administrator.
By Patricia Garlando
At our press time, Stephen Ritz was recognized as a Top 10 finalist for the Global Teach Prize. The award of $1 million is widely regarded as the Nobel Prize of teaching, and 5,000 contenders were considered. Here are a few favorite quotes from our conversation with Ritz, the CEO (Chief Eternal Optimist) of the South Bronx:
“I’m a big believer in project-based learning. When kids take ownership of it, they literally live it. So they are responsible for it. It’s about engagement and opportunity. Project-based learning will afford that. I don’t expect every kid to be a farmer. But I expect him to read about it, write about it, blog about it, do the science and math, and be engaged and speak the technical language involved. My kids are farming their way across the common core.”
“I like to say my classroom is the face of 21st-century democracy. Teaching kids to count is critical, but teaching them what counts is transformational. We’re doing both. While I’m very much about ABCD’s, I am a teacher and administrator. The new age ABCD’s are Asset-Based Community-Development. We should not have to leave our neighborhood to live, learn, and earn in a better way. We can grow our way into a whole new economy right where we live, right where kids go to school. It’s critical. Where we learn matters, and every child needs a nurturing environment where they can work and dream and aspire towards a better future. While I can’t build a new school building, I can put a plant in every classroom. And dammit, I’m going to do just that!”
Support Stephen’s students by visiting their Barnraiser page, liking them on Facebook, following on Twitter (@greenBXmachine), and checking out the website – the students run both. See Stephen’s TEDtalk for more information.