project leader
Jess P
293 East Broadway
Manhattan (Lower East Side)
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the project

The Outdoor Classroom at P.S. 134 was established in 2004, through a partnership between the school and Hester Street Collaborative that sought to reclaim and transform a derelict community garden on the school's grounds into a classroom for interdisciplinary, hands-on learning. Today HSC's Ground Up design education program at the school uses the garden as a design/build laboratory where students create a new garden element each year (including elements like signage, stools, compost bins, stepping stones, and other projects). HSC, in partnership with P.S. 134 staff and students, maintains the garden and helps to involve the entire school community in its care. Building on the Lower East Side community's need for continued care and stewardship of open spaces, increased green space, and the promotion of sustainable, environmentally aware practices by the area's residents, the Outdoor Classroom at P.S. 134 focuses heavily on sustainable gardening practices like composting, plant care, healthy food production, and long-term care and maintenance of street trees and green spaces alike. The lack of adequate greenspace on the Lower East Side makes a garden like P.S. 134's an important resource not just for the school, but for the entire neighborhood. Increased greenspace and access to a well-cared-for garden improves the built environment for the surrounding community, and teaches students who might otherwise have no access to the natural environment about the importance of environmental stewardship, conservation, urban food production, and caring for the built environment.

the steps

During the last month of the 2009-2010 school year at P.S. 134, HSC will complete the Ground Up curriculum through workshops with 8 classes (grades 2 – 5), community wide “Dirt Days” (garden care events held in the garden on weekends), and school-wide workshops and events to increase involvement and awareness of the garden. The Ground Up program is comprised of a series of classroom workshops which help students to understand their built and social environments and develop design and art-making skills to improve the environment in their communities. At P.S. 134 these workshops will focus on building specific elements of the garden, including signage, furniture, and other integral garden elements like compost bins and planting beds. During the month of June, several specific design-build projects including garden signage and compost bins, as well as summer vegetable plantings, will be completed by participating P.S. 134 students. These projects will culminate in an end-of-year Garden Celebration on June 16, which will acknowledge P.S. 134 students and staff as well as donors, volunteers, and other supporters of the garden. This event will be designed to recognize and promote the importance of this successful Outdoor Classroom/Community Garden for the school and community. HSC hopes that the exposure gained through this culminating event will increase local awareness of environmental and open space improvement issues on the Lower East Side. We seek to establish the garden into a sustainable resource for the school and a unique site of interdisciplinary environmental learning for years to come.

why we're doing it

Due to cramped living conditions in Chinatown and the Lower East Side, many students and residents lack ways to access the natural environment and the benefits of adequate green, open space. The amount of open space accessible to this area's more than 200,000 residents lags sorely behind the rest of the city, with only 0.7 acres of open space per 1,000 residents. The youth of this neighborhood, especially, need opportunities to strengthen their community connections and become directly involved in the improvement of their neighborhood. HSC's design-build process allows these youth to see first-hand how their actions can improve the quality of life in their neighborhood. HSC's Ground Up design education program targets public school students in grades K-12, particularly immigrant youth and those living below the poverty level. A majority of students at P.S. 134 fall into one or both of these categories, with over 75% coming from families who qualify for income assistance. For many students at P.S. 134, their work in the outdoor classroom is their first exposure to nature and the concepts of caring for the environment. The Ground Up program addresses this critical need for improved open space and access to nature while engaging these students in improving their physical environment. The curriculum integrates science, math, art and literacy learning through hands-on sustainable design activities. This experience provides students with a stake in the future of their communities, and with a profound desire to be productive contributors to civic life in New York City. Developing an understanding of the environment at an early age is essential for growing the next generation of stewards.


Plants & seeds for end-of-year plantings:$100 Project materials for student-designed signage: $50 Refreshments for end-of-year celebration event: $200 ioby processing fees: $53


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