Maizing the roof: Tele students to grow veggies in rooftop greenhouse

Sow excited: Students get ready to sow their first seeds.
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This school is planting the seeds of curiosity.

Students, educators, and local pols celebrated the grand opening of a rooftop greenhouse on Oct. 7 at the High School of Telecommunication Arts and Technology in Bay Ridge, where pupils will nurture crops from seedlings to harvest. It’s a learning environment that will help kids grow a fuller appreciation of how chow gets to their tables, said one teacher.

“I’m from Missouri, and in the city, kids don’t have as much opportunity to make those connection about where their food comes from and the production process,” said Brittany Beck, who teaches living environment and health to ninth graders. “This will help students draw those connections in a hands-on environment.”

Budding botanists will study sustainable farming and the economics of food as they grow vegetables such as lettuce and tomatoes, according to principal Xhenete Shepard.

And this ain’t your grandpappy’s farmstead. The hothouse is outfitted with high-tech hydroponic systems, vertical planting towers, and even a special contraption that recirculates nutrient-rich water among plants.

Educators hope the farming will spur students on to new career possibilities. And pupils are excited to ditch their desks and get down and dirty, said one 11th grader.

“It’s nice to get out of the classroom and have a different experience that lets us actually see and do these things,” said Staten Island resident Marina Morkos, who hopes to study biology in college. “I feel science is a window to the world.”

The arboretum grew out of Deputy Chancellor Philip Weinberg’s and Shepard’s hopes to transform the empty space above the school’s auditorium into a green resource for students.

Weinberg, who taught at Tele for more than a decade, brought the idea to Councilman Vincent Gentile (D–Bay Ridge), and the lawmaker allocated $725,000 to the project. Former Borough President Marty Markowitz kicked in $250,000, and the School Construction Authority pitched in $1.9 million to rebuild the auditorium roof that supports the structure.

The project is crucial to promote hands-on learning, said Gentile.

“Education is not just about textbooks,” he said. “Benjamin Franklin once famously said, ‘Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involved me and I learn,’ and that’s exactly what’s going to happen with this greenhouse — students will be involved.”

For now, the greenhouse will house after-school clubs, but creative-writing classes will eventually use it to so writers can draw inspiration from the lush garden.

Reach reporter Caroline Spivack at or by calling (718) 260–2517. Follow him on Twitter @carolinespivack.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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