Stephen Ritz is a South Bronx educator / administrator who believes that students shouldn’t have to leave their community to live, learn, and earn in a better one. Moving generations of students into spheres of personal and academic successes which they had never imagined — while reclaiming and rebuilding the Bronx — Stephen’s extended student and community family have grown more than 40,000 pounds of vegetables in the Bronx while generating extraordinary academic performance.
Stephen helped earn his school the first ever Citywide Award of Excellence from the NYC Strategic Alliance for Health and directly attributes these results to growing vegetables in school. The National Association of Secondary School Principals cited Stephen’s work and Green Bronx Machine as one of five national exemplars of service learning.
Stephen’s Bronx classroom featured the first indoor edible classroom in NYC Department Of Education, which routinely generated enough produce to provide healthy meals to 450 students while training the youngest nationally certified workforce in America. His programming is approved for School Garden to School Cafe; growing the food served in school in classrooms all year long. His students have embarked on growing projects from Boston to Rockefeller Center to the Hamptons and beyond — all while earning living wages en route to graduation. They have gone on to install over 100 gardens in NYC and countless across America and around the globe. Recently, Stephen and his students were featured by NPR – Fifty Great Teachers and PBS in the American Graduate Series.
Green Bronx Machine
Green Bronx Machine is an impact driven, for-purpose organization with 501(c)(3) status rooted in the belief that we are all Amer-I-Cans! Green Bronx Machine was born via collaboration between life-long educator Stephen Ritz and his students who observed that as waistlines expanded, engagement and opportunities in school decreased, school performance suffered, and hope and ambition became minimized. Originally an after-school, alternative program for high school students, Green Bronx Machine has evolved into K-12+ model fully integrated into core curriculum. GBM’s students grow, eat and love their vegetables en route to spectacular academic performance. 40,000 pounds of Bronx vegetables later, our favorite crops include healthy students, high performing schools, graduates, registered voters, living wage jobs and members of the middle class. Our work, vision and mission are as organic and locally grown as it gets – straight from our classroom to our community.
Residing in the South Bronx, GBM’s work and their impact have been celebrated and documented locally, nationally and internationally. To date, they’ve been recognized as a Citywide School of Excellence by NYC Strategic Alliance for Health, cited as one of five national exemplars of Service Learning by the National Association of Secondary School Principals and named Best of Green Schools 2014 by the US Green Building Council/Center for Green Schools. GBM’s students have presented nationally and have traveled from their local green house to the White House, always ready, willing and able to export their grit, talent, and diversity. Along the way some of GBM’s critical benchmarks have included moving targeted daily attendance rates from 40% to 93%, 100% passing rates on New York State Examinations, and partnering towards 2,200 youth jobs.
Green Bronx Machine transformed an underutilized library in a 100+ year-old school building into the National Health, Wellness, and Learning Center at Community School 55 in the heart of the largest tract of public housing in the South Bronx. This community has some of New York State’s highest per capita rates of childhood obesity, diabetes, heart disease, chronic unemployment and underemployment, food insecurity and food stamp recipients. Here, 99% of students qualify for free and reduced lunch while the 99-cent menu stalks them at every corner. Home to the largest Pre-K Program in the entire Community School District and recently designated a Whole Community School by the NYC Department of Education, GBM’s potential for transformational impact is broad and deep. In their inaugural year they saw a 45% school-wide increase in passing rates on NYS Science exams.
The National Health, Wellness and Learning Center at CS 55 is a state of the art facility inclusive of a year round commercial indoor vertical farm and food processing/training kitchen with solar and alternative energy generators – net positive on food and energy. The first Career Technical Education Elementary School in the nation – a place of inquiry, wonder, inspiration and aspiration for students before, during and after school – as well as a dedicated Wellness and 21st Century Workforce Development Center serving the entire community open evenings, weekends and summers. This facility will also provide professional development to colleagues and serve as a teacher training center. A launching point for expansion throughout the borough, the city, the nation, and the world, Green Bronx Machine is building a one stop community wellness shop redefining the notion of high impact and high performance living, learning and earning. Together, we are growing something greater!