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Meet a Teacher Who is Using Plants to Change Students’ Lives

Education Week

Sometimes serendipity finds you in the strangest of places—like under a radiator. It was there, in a classroom in New York City in 2004, where the “discovery of a flower growing beneath a radiator disrupted a fight that was about to break out in Stephen Ritz’s classroom.” This encounter with hearty urban vegetation inspired Ritz to start a movement to “grow” success by growing fruits and vegetables with some of the city’s poorest children—and “it seems to be working.” At first, it was an after-school program. Today, it is a “fully integrated core curriculum” aligned with Common Core State Standards. In a community with New York City’s highest levels of unemployment and where nearly every student qualifies for some kind of subsidized lunch, the program is having “ripple effects” when it comes to academic achievement. After just one year with the program in place, the school saw a 50% reduction in behavioral incidents. After the second year, the school’s state science exam passing rate increased by 45%. This is just one of many examples that demonstrate how higher education standards and imaginative approaches to teaching are not mutually exclusive—in fact, such standards don’t, as critics claim, diminish creativity and flexibility in the classroom. They actually encourage them.

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