Vibrant colors, sunny lights and growing greens welcome you into the new National Health, Wellness and Learning Center. This is a state of the art teaching classroom equipped with Seven indoor vertical farms, two bicycle powered generators and a first-of-its-kind kitchen on wheels.
Situated in the poorest congressional district in the country, elementary school PS 55, is in the midst of an educational renaissance and Green Bronx Machine is heading the transformation.
Stephen Ritz was the recipient of the TEDxManhattan Award for his work with Green Bronx Machine, an organization that is growing thousands of healthy students to transform the South Bronx community. Plans for the National Health, Wellness and Learning Center were first announced at TEDxManhattan 2015. In six months, the organization raised the funds and built the center to launch on January 4, 2016. The center is located in a former abandoned library in PS 55 and is designed to integrate plant-based teaching with core school curriculum, as well as state and national Common Core standards. All 745 students enrolled at the school, are growing food, learning to cook and going home with a bag of groceries each week.
The kids are already jumping through hoops to be a part of the hands-on classes. With Ritz’ design, the Center is an educational fun-house. All programing is interactive – bicycle powered generators are educating kids on different types of energy, a therapy rabbit is helping to foster a comfortable and warm learning environment,and tilapia is being raised right in the classroom so students can see the workings of an ecosystem.
Ritz is proud to share that PS 55’s attendance rate has gone from 40 percent to 93 percent since launching Green Bronx Machine, and now plans for one hundred percent with the new Center.
GREEN BRONX MACHINE MOBILE CLASSROOM KITCHEN
Imagine a mobile teaching kitchen in every classroom, where students are expanding their palates to expand their minds. This is Stephen Ritz’s vision. And it is beginning in PS 55 with the Green Bronx Machine Mobile Classroom Kitchen. The first of its kind, the kitchen has 18 work stations, built-in refrigerator, induction oven, warming tray, a sink with fresh water, ability to recycle waste water, an interactive broadcasting screen and it is collapsible. It is designed to fold-up and move from classroom to classroom and up and down the hallways. The Kitchen is fully integrated into the school’s curriculum, teaching science and math through food and cooking.
Ritz is developing something that has never been done before in education. He is aligning urban farming and cooking to state mandated common core curriculum. Green Bronx Machine began as an after school program and Ritz is now collaborating with PS 55 to make it accessible to all students.
Working as a full-time volunteer, Ritz partners with the school principal to align the science of food to key school performance indicators. He is changing the STEM model (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) to STEAM, adding an “A” for art, advocacy and aspiration. In his own words, “In the land of fried food we are cooking with STEAM in the middle of the South Bronx!”
SOUTH BRONX COMMUNITY
The Center is open to all in the South Bronx. Cooking classes are offered weekly for parents, grandparents, and everyone in the community. These classes are completely free and each person goes home with a bag of fresh groceries. The community is encouraged to take repeat classes, returning every week if they like. There are no limits. And Ritz is even partnering with former executive pastry chef for the White House, Bill Yosses, to lead some of the classes.
Green Bronx Machine’s core mission is to build healthy, equitable, and resilient communities. What begins in the school leads to decreased crime rates, lower numbers of obesity and higher living wages for the neighborhood.
Green Bronx Machine is taking a classically failed school and creating a model for replication around healthy living, wellness and nutrition. At PS 55, the vegetable consumption is going through the roof and kids come to school excited to learn. The launch of the National Health, Wellness and Learning Center is growing Ritz’s dream of seeing his students accepted into the esteemed Bronx High School of Science.
Brittany Barton is the creative behind SparkleKitchen.com. Brittany offers real food recipes, sustainable living guidance and inspiration for others to become more sparkly versions of themselves.