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J.S. Jenks is a Philadelphia School District K-8 neighborhood public school. It houses a diverse, urban population of approximately 500 students, mostly from the northwest Philadelphia area. Over 80% of J.S. Jenks students are African-American, and over 50% are from economically disadvantaged households with English as the primary language. The school’s surrounding community of Chestnut Hill has a strong environmental connection with neighboring Fairmount Park and the Wissahickon Creek. Chestnut Hill participated in the Recyclebank pilot program and continues to have high participation in the city-wide Recyclebank program. Northwest Philadelphia’s environmental awareness and sustainability is further evidenced by the success of the Schuylkill Nature Center, Morris Arboretum, and Awbury Arboretum, three nearby locations with strong programs geared towards encouraging environmental awareness through introductions to wildlife and native vegetation. Although J.S. Jenks is part of this community, as an urban school with a substantial low-income population, it is difficult for students to make routine connections with their outdoor environment and thus it is a struggle to encourage healthy outdoor activities and lifestyle choices.
"We are proposing to create a student-operated native plant garden that will complement an ongoing green curriculum led by grades 4-5 to benefit the entire school. Mr. Fitzsimmons’ science classes, along with participants in an after-school environmental club and support from the school’s Beautification Committee will convert several plots to native plant gardens by turning over the dirt, planting seeds and seedlings, and topping the soil with mulch. Good-quality plants from local dealers will be purchased and each plant will be marked with a sign naming the type and Latin name. The type of location (shade or no shade) will serve as a lesson as to the types of suitable plants. The science class will document plant and wildlife characteristics through the seasons, while learning about the importance of the plants to the ecosystem. By the end of school in June 2014, we expect plant blooms attracting wildlife such as bees and birds. The summer period will involve management by a small group of student and community volunteers to keep weeds in check and the plants watered. An after-school environmental club, also led by Mr. Fitzsimmons, will focus on education outreach about local ecosystems. Students will create presentations with display boards and handouts; insect specimens and examples of the effects of pesticides will be shown where possible. The environmental club will present their work to each classroom, in order to spread awareness about the garden, and the importance of healthy ecosystems. It is expected that other teachers will incorporate the garden into lesson plans where appropriate. The garden will be accessible to the community, as it will be located nearby pathways that lead to the school’s playground which is heavily utilized by families from throughout Northwest Philadelphia. In order to make the community aware of the school’s garden project, students will present their educational posters, and sample cuttings of garden flora, at the Chestnut Hill Spring Garden Festival and Fall for the Arts Festival. The student’s efforts will also be highlighted in school newsletters produced by the Home and School Association and the Friends of J.S. Jenks."