An Open Letter to DOE Proposing Outdoor Classes at Elizabeth Street Garden
The following open letter to the Department of Education was penned by executive director of the Elizabeth Street Garden, Joseph Reiver.
Dear Chancellor Carranza,
As the City moves to reopen public schools, Elizabeth Street Garden would like to offer our grounds for outdoor classes. We understand the complexity of ensuring that children safely receive their education and hope that providing the garden as an outdoor space for learning can serve as an example of resourceful measures during these trying times.
Now more than ever, New Yorkers are reminded of the importance of community gardens, parks, and open space. It is vital that we recognize how such places rejuvenate us, mentally and physically, leading to less anxiety and more inspiration and mental clarity. As elected officials, institutions, and businesses across the city seek outdoor solutions for many affected aspects of our society, we must consider the same for our schools.
The garden lot has a long history rooted in innovative outdoor education dating back to the early 1800s. In 1822, the Free School Society established Public School no. 5 on the lot, featuring outdoor space for students and public use. When PS 5 was redesigned and expanded into PS 21, the faculty implemented Open Air Class sessions so children could learn with the benefit of fresh air. Many of these classes took place during the wave of tuberculosis in the early 1900s.
While PS 21 no longer exists, the once abandoned lot where it stood has been transformed into a sanctuary that continues the spirit of outdoor education through a variety of programs. In 2019, ESG worked with over 750 students from PS 1 and PS 130. Over the course of several months, classes visited the garden to learn about plants and seeds, sustainable stewardship, and art through nature (see photos here). Now, as we recover from the pandemic, we have a new opportunity to preserve and expand upon the educational character of the space.
Elizabeth Street Garden is just over 20,000 square feet of nature. Consisting of lawn, paved, and covered areas, the garden is unique and versatile. With the Department of Education’s cooperation, ESG could serve as a litmus test for the consideration of gardens across the city in confluence with our schools.
The pandemic has taken a large toll on all of us, including students. Remaining isolated indoors from friends and teachers can have a mental and physical impact on anyone. The garden helps to alleviate the effects of the COVID-19 shutdown and restore us all, not just students, but teachers and parents as well.
Unique and challenging times like this call for creative partnerships and unique solutions. We happily invite you to the garden to experience its qualities for yourself. As a place of inspiration, curiosity, and creativity, I trust you’ll witness firsthand what a magical experience it is to learn in Elizabeth Street Garden.