An Open Letter to DOE Proposing Outdoor Classes at Elizabeth Street Garden

Posted on: July 28th, 2020 at 5:02 am by

Photo: 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.

Recent Stories

One Year Later, ‘Fiore Escape’ COVID Sessions Still Captivate

One year after first captivating passersby at Essex and Grand Streets, the free fire escape concert series is back for another. Indeed, musician Jill Fiore will perform anew from the second floor of her Essex Street tenement (above Delancey Car Service). The next so-called “Fiore Escape” show is slated for October 15, as announced on […]

Parks Department Installs Fence at Allen Mall Bathhouse in Response to Nadja Rose Madder

The Parks Department is upping the ante on deterring a homeless artist from painting and gathering at the Allen Street Bathhouse. Earlier this week, the city began assembling an eight-foot chain-link enclosure to (partially) fence in the sidewalk plaza. It is on this spot that transgender artist Nadja Rose Madder has been transforming the brickwork […]

Extell Residents in Cherry Street Tower Bark Foul Over Abundance of Dogs Despite No Pet Policy

Residents of Extell’s “affordable tower” at 227 Cherry Street are barking foul over the proliferation of pitbulls, despite the no-pet policy. We are told by current tenants that leases contain a strict stipulation prohibiting pets in apartments, and that management (Wavecrest) seems deaf and/or slow to act about the apparent violations. By some estimates, there […]

Aggro Panhandler Hurls Brick at Pickle Guys Worker in Brutal Attack

An aggro panhandler outside Pickle Guys on Grand Street attacked an employee after he was asked to move away from the store entrance, cops said. The suspect had been aggressively begging at around 8:20am last Wednesday when the 63-year-old worker told him to disperse. That didn’t sit well; the pugilist picked up a nearby chair […]

Educational Alliance Executive Becomes New Head of Manhattan JCC

From the Lower East Side to the Upper West Side. Rabbi Joanna Samuels, the sitting executive director of the Manny Cantor Center at the Educational Alliance, is set to become the new chief executive director of the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan. Her new gig begins early next year, marking a significant transition at one of […]