“The Greening of a Desert” Project at Pedro Albizu Campos High School – One of Three Funded Projects from among 200 Applications Nationwide

Chicago, IL. December 8, 2009.
Professor Sarah J. McCarthey, President of the McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation, announced that “The Greening of a Desert” program at Pedro Albizu Campos High School (PACHS) has been awarded $10,000.00 for the 2009/2010 academic year. The funding can be renewed for two more years for a total award of $30,000.00 depending on the design of the project. “The Greening of a Desert” is one of only three out of 200 applications nationwide to receive an Academic Enrichment Grant.

Carlos R. DeJesus, Assistant Principal and Director of the Urban Agriculture Initiative and the Community Scholars Program at PACHS described “The Greening of a Desert” as a school-based program in urban agriculture. “The mission is to enhance the engagement of our students in addressing the community’s designation as a food desert,” commented Director DeJesus. “Currently, community residents have to leave the community and travel to other communities in order to purchase affordable, fresh vegetables, fruits and herbs.”

Professor McCarthey described the program as an outstanding example of a an innovative educational effort that challenges a system that has focused on testing and standards by introducing real world, problem-based curriculum. “The Foundation’s Board of Trustees were impressed by this creative yet pragmatic program that relates to students’ lives and the community in which they live,” commented Professor McCarthey.

PACHS will establish a student-designed, student- coordinated Urban Community Farm in Chicago’s Humboldt Park. “PACHS provides its students, all of whom have dropped out or have been pushed out of public high schools, with a highly supportive, student-centered environment in which to undo years of negativity and failure in prior schools and rekindle their innate curiosity and love of learning,” added Director DeJesus. “Students learn the value of service learning and community engagement; that the community is an ecosystem; and that their well-being as individuals is intimately tied to the well-being of their community.”

According to Director DeJesus, PACHS students are engaged in problem-based learning in which they are encouraged to research, deliberate and come up with solutions to the community’s food desert status and related health issues. Student recommendations have already fueled community-wide urban agriculture initiatives: a campaign to encourage community residents to grow their own food through backyard and rooftop gardens; development of a greenhouse at PACHS and on the rooftops of buildings along Paseo Boricua; and an urban community farm in Humboldt Park, a 209-acre park located within the community’s boundaries.

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