Stories from Teachers

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Garden Project

Education Empowers

This is a guest blog post by Joseph Valdes.

If you want to do a meaningful service project that can directly benefit others, it is important to look closely at the needs in your community. Over the past two years, Bedford Stuyvesant New Beginnings Charter School has been building a school-wide service learning program to address the most immediate needs in our neighborhood. Together my students and I set out to make lasting change, and though we've had to change our plans along the way, we are all enriched by the experience and what we've learned.

It took us some time to figure out what exactly it was that our community needed. First we started by investigating. Through a community-wide survey, we revealed that the most pressing issue on people's minds was health and wellness. We set to work right away participating in many food drives and farmer's markets to provide healthy food to the community. However, soon we discovered that it requires more than just giving. We had to educate!

Many of the families we were trying to help did not see how important it is to have a healthy diet rich in nutrients from fruits and vegetables. We adapted our plan to educate other students, parents, and anyone who would listen about the benefits of gardening, cooking and nutrition, and learned so much about ourselves and the community along the way!

Finally feeling like we were getting it right, our middle school students initiated projects with the goals of increasing awareness in the community and empowering them to take control of their health and well-being. Through the Make Your Mark on Hunger Grant, we were able to build 20 simple hydroponic systems that we gave to nursing home residents and local families. We wanted to show others how to grow healthy food within in an urban environment, and raised awareness for how important fresh fruits and vegetables are for a healthy lifestyle.

However, these kids and teens weren't through yet; they knew that many people lacked the knowledge to prepare a meal with the ingredients they were growing. In response, our middle school students collaborated to make a cookbook with over 25 recipes that included nutritional information.

This was as much a lesson for our students and school as the community we intended to help. We learned that giving back is always good, but don't forget that sometimes it takes more than that. Sometimes, you have to help educate others, so they can be empowered to help themselves.

Joseph Valdes is the Service Learning Coordinator for Bedford Stuyvesant New Beginnings Charter School in Brooklyn. Over the past 2 years, he has been developing a school wide service learning program that engages students in targeted service learning experiences that are aligned with the school curriculum. He has also co-managed the school's Urban Farm, which hosts harvest events every two months to educate and support community growth through health and wellness.

For more inspiring tales from teachers:


Read Madeline's story of students making a difference for kids and teens who might feel isolated due to their disabilities. Get inspired here!

Animal Welfare:

Find out how Genevieve was able to get her students involved in policy by advocating for animals. Her students were so inspired by their service learning project that they started their own petition! Read her story here.

Health and Wellness:

Read about Pam's experience with teaching her students about health and wellness. Her students were so inspired by learning about cancer that they created a project to raise money for the Oncology Department of the local hospital. These kids emptied their piggy banks for cancer research and inspired others to action! Read her story here.