CHICAGO — Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his school chief believe "learning gardens" will help ease the transition next fall for students shifted from shuttered schools.
Emanuel and Chicago Public Schools Chief Executive Officer Barbara Byrd-Bennett announced plans Tuesday to build as many as 50 science- and nutrition-focused "learning gardens" at the schools that are receiving students displaced by 54 school closures and other mergings.
Organized and implemented by the Kitchen Community, a nonprofit outgrowth of a family of restaurants, learning gardens are designed to provide hands-on lessons.
"Every student in every neighborhood deserves a high-quality education that prepares them to succeed. For too long, too many of our children have been trapped in underutilized, under-resourced schools,” Emanuel said.
The learning gardens will provide students in the receiving schools, dubbed "welcoming schools" by CPS, "with hands-on education opportunities in science and nutrition that they otherwise would not have," Emanuel said.
"For too long, children in certain parts of Chicago have been cheated out of the resources they need to succeed because they are in underutilized, under-resourced schools, and by consolidating these schools we can focus on safely getting every child into a better-performing school close to their home," Byrd-Bennett added.
Emanuel and Byrd-Bennett have previously insisted that every school assigned to welcome students from a closed school will be equipped with air conditioning, and students at those schools in third through eighth grade will be given iPads.
The Chicago Teachers Union, however, has put out a report arguing that the school closures will actually cost the district money, not save money.
"CPS is making all of these promises of how it will support these students and their schools, but once again, they’re lying just to make families sympathetic to what they’re doing," CTU President Karen Lewis said.
CTU spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin scoffed at the idea that learning gardens can make up for the trauma of closing schools, asking, "How do we nourish the bodies of our children when we destroy their spirit by starving their schools of much-needed resources in order to destroy them?"
Emanuel announced in December that $1 million in funding left over from last year's NATO meetings in Chicago would go to build 60 learning gardens. The Kitchen Community has amassed funding for 20 more. Thirty are being built this spring, and another 50 will be constructed over the summer.
"Learning Gardens are easy, affordable and scalable, and we're thrilled to be planting more of them here in Chicago," said Kitchen Community co-founder Kimbal Musk, adding that last year's pilot program produced a 50 percent increase in the "likability" of vegetables for involved students, while encouraging many to start home gardens with their families.
Learning gardens have already been installed at Ruiz Elementary, Benito Juarez Community Academy High School, Jonathan Burr Elementary, Mildred I. Lavizzo Elementary, Carter G. Woodson South Elementary, Sir Miles Davis Magnet Elementary Academy, Dawes Elementary, Nathanael Greene Elementary, Carl von Linne Elementary, Southside Occupational, Paul Laurence Dunbar Career Academy High School, Neal F Simeon Career Academy High School, Oliver S. Westcott Elementary and Robert L. Grimes Elementary School.