Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Notes from Around Town: the Garden at PS 57

The following images are from a celebration we had at PS 57 on June 24, 2008.

PS 57 is also known as The James Weldon Johnson School. Mr. Israel Soto is the acting Principal. The school is located at 176 East 115th Street, between Lexington and 3rd Avenues, New York, NY, 10029.

The Horticultural Society is connected to PS 57 thanks to our Apple Seed program. Apple Seed offers innovative, hands-on environmental education and activities to expand science, math, and literacy skills in elementary students throughout New York City. The curriculum is based on the National Science Education Standards and serves public schools during and after school in some of New York City’s most underserved neighborhoods.

This is Apple Seed’s fifth year with PS 57. Our relationship started in 1996 when we taught several third grade classes for two years. More recently, Mr. Paul Forbes, Youth Development Manager at the Department of Education, reunited HSNY with PS57. Principal Soto was looking for an educationally based group to help him build a “Garden of Dreams” in a quiet schoolyard. And so, The Horticultural Society of New York installed this beautiful courtyard garden in the Spring of 2005. Students in our Green Team Internship Program built planters and created the waterfall. Apple Seed students then assisted with planting and maintaining a garden on the second floor deck of the school. This year “field trips” to the garden occurred with three classes to encourage garden art, planting annuals, fertilizing the soil, and increasing butterfly populations in the garden.

This garden is a living laboratory that demonstrates the marvels of plant life, its interconnection with the water cycle and the animals who depend on them. It is a vision of Principal Israel Soto, who wants all students to dream and dream BIG. It was designed by HSNY’s John Cannizzo and built by HSNY’s Green Team. This dream became a reality through the generous support of Bob Silver Family Foundation, The City Gardens Club of New York City, and Rodale.

John Cannizzo in the distance working with the students at PS 57 planting a new container.

The garden and outdoor learning facility is loved and utilized by students and teachers alike.

On the day of the celebration the kids were helping to pass out amazing tomato plants.

The new shade structure being unveiled is not only a new outdoor classroom space, but it also incorporates a rain water harvesting system to be used by the local gardeners.

HSNY's first rainwater harvesting system in a New York City public school helps to conserve our public drinking water by capturing rainwater from the roof of the outdoor learning center and storing it for use in the garden. This simple knowledge and technology we hope to introduce to other public school students throughout the city.

A little information about the students at PS57:
Student Population:
69% of students are Latino
23% of students are African-American
23% English Language Learners
90% of the students are receiving free lunch – from low-income families

Kate Chura, President and CEO of The Horticultural Society of New York, (above) and Principal Israel Soto (below) were among the many speakers who helped to welcome the students, parents, and guests to this amazing oasis of learning and discovery.

Also present for the ribbon cutting were Edie Loening from The City Gardens Club of New York City, Scott Meyer from Organic Gardening Magazine (a Rodale publication), and of course, the students.

Following the formal ceremony the students wasted no time getting to work watering the garden.

Healthy and nutritional snacks were provided to make sure we all kept our energy up during the hot summer day.

On-going maintenance of the garden is done by the third graders with the direction of HSNY’s weekly gardening classes. If you have questions about HSNY’s Apple Seed program, contact Pam Ito, Director of Children’s Education, at

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