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Tower to Table STEM Program

The creator of a unique academic program used by Trotwood-Madison schools visited the district Thursday, meeting with Westbrooke Village Elementary students and educators to discuss the curriculum’s continued success.

Green Bronx Machine, created by Bronx, N.Y., teacher Stephen Ritz, centers on the process of growing vegetables while incorporating real-world lessons in core school subjects. The curriculum, implemented at Westbrooke in April of this year and led by STEM teacher Daniell Cossey, allows students to take a hands-on approach to learn about plants, how to nourish and cultivate them, and how to prepare them for meals.

Green Bronx Machine involves the use of a vertical garden tower that allows for the indoor cultivation of plants.

“I like to say we grow vegetables, our vegetables grow students, our students grow schools, and our schools grow happy, healthy, resilient communities,” Ritz said Thursday.

The “tower-to-table” program has been put into action in classrooms within underserved communities around the world. Trotwood students are reaping the benefits of a program designed to promote healthy, prosperous lives both in and out of the classroom.

Teach Multiple Subjects

Westbrooke Principal Tabitha Hardin said the Green Bronx Machine program is an educational tool that can be used to teach multiple subjects.

“It’s not just growing plants; it’s more than that. The whole process hits all categories across curriculum,” she said, noting that the students gain skills in multiple categories, including social-emotional, math, science, and more.

Hardin said while the program itself is made to be easily disseminated to students, Cossey plays a crucial role in its success.

“For me, coming in and watching what she does with the kids and how excited they are and her enthusiasm just takes it to another level,” Hardin said. “We want kids to be engaged and learn and to keep growing and Ms. Cossey is all about that, so she’s phenomenal.”

The idea behind the Green Bronx Machine curriculum emerged as a result of Ritz’s 30-plus years in the education field.

“Children will never be well-read if they aren’t well-fed,” he said. “After three-plus decades in education, (I’ve found) the most important school supply in the world is food. Children who are nourished physically, mentally and emotionally are nourished intellectually on so many levels.”

Inspire Kids

Ritz said the availability of “cheap, convenient fast food,” along with issues related to food accessibility, has contributed to a health crisis in America. He highlighted Trotwood’s lack of grocery stores as a localized factor to this universal issue and said the Green Bronx Machine program can help inspire kids to not only eat healthier but to actually enjoy healthy foods.

“When they grow it, they want to eat it, and when they eat it, they tend to like it,” he said. “And if they don’t like it, that’s okay, we can find something else. It’s all about expanding palates and about exposure.”

Cossey said she appreciates the freedom and flexibility the Green Bronx Machine curriculum provides.

“Any teacher can do it because you aren’t required to do certain lessons; you can pick and choose what activities fit best for your kids,” she said.

Ritz noted that data from the United States Department of Agriculture shows that children who have direct exposure with growing plants will eat 43% more fruits and vegetables over the course of their lifetime.

“If they’re eating 43% more fruits and vegetables as opposed to packaged and processed food, think about what that means for their kidneys, their intestines, their diabetes rates, everything,” he said. “When you change food in communities like ours, you change everything.”

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