Educational group stresses non-traditional subject matter
A new non-profit group is encouraging second-graders at two area schools to add meditation, healthy eating, and the environment to their core curricula of reading, writing and arithmetic.
Former PS 1 teacher Adrienne Heim founded Green Generations last year, and currently offers the after school program to about 50 students at PS 5 in Port Morris and Girls Prep Bronx Elementary School in Mott Haven.
After teaching at PS 1 for five-and-a-half years, Heim moved to Paris with her husband, where she taught school for five years. But she says she always knew she would find her way back to the Bronx. Even while living in the City of Light, Heim maintained contact with her former students at PS 1. It was that bond that drew her back.
“One of them was recruited into a gang,” Heim said.
When she found that one of her students had lost both parents, she realized it was time.
“I just knew that I wanted to come back and start this,” she said.
When Heim moved back to the city, her former principal at PS1 put her in touch with PS 5, where the administration agreed to pick up her program. Girls Prep joined in shortly after.
One of Heim’s main objectives has been to take some of the focus off academics for kids, “to give them the tools that we need, and to understand what friendship looks like.”
Mirabel Rivera, whose son Daniel, 8, attends PS 5, said her son was never enthusiastic about going to school, but the program’s novel approach to learning changed that.
“When I picked him up he would be excited. And I love that,” said Rivera. “When you can get a child excited in anything, in learning new things, that’s a positive.”
Daniel became more receptive to trying new, healthier foods, she said. She also values the program’s emphasis on teaching kids to resolve conflicts with words rather than fights.
Another parent Charlotte Davis, whose daughter Tyler Lattimer attends Girls Prep, said the program has impacted her and Tyler equally. One of the activities calls for having children envision an invisible string attached from one’s ear to another’s heart, to symbolize unity and respect. Davis says she and her daughter now practice the exercise at home.
As an end of the year gift, they gave Heim and another teacher a string to symbolize the game.
“What my daughter learned, she passed on to me, and I’m using that in my own life in terms of sharing with other people,” Davis said.
Last spring, during the program’s first semester in both schools, Heim and her co-teacher taught the students calming exercises, discussed nutrition and healthy eating, and encouraged the children to write about their accomplishments in “success notebooks.” They also brought in a yoga expert and a nutrition expert and, over the summer, have held Sustainable Saturday workshops at St. Mary’s Park, each of which has a nature theme. The workshops will continue into October.
The project is currently sponsored by a Brooklyn-based organization, and private donations, although Heim hopes it will soon expand. Plans are in the works to partner with a local Community Supported Agriculture program, and to launch similar after school projects in other area schools.
“I would love for each school in the South Bronx to have a Green Generations in it,” she said.
Rivera would like to see other parents and their children benefit from the program the way she and her daughter have.
“You don’t have to go into Manhattan, you don’t have to go up to Westchester,” she said. “Here in the South Bronx you’re going to have a program that helps our kids, that helps our families.”