Big Turn Out To Re-Fund Ecology Program

Pictures by Alicia Mayorca
In this message:
Report Back from Gathering to Save Ecology and Waters Garden
Response to inaccuracies on the Waters FaceBook Page
Bring Ecology Under Control!
There Are Rules that Must Be Followed
Nobody's Going to Destroy the Garden
Don't say the ecology program is being destroyed
Mistakes made by WT
Ugly Turn
(I'll only deal with the first three today, the rest tomorrow with more positive inspiring messages from the community)

Eighty plus people from Waters School Community came out to the Garden Saturday to express their concerns and upset about cuts to the ecology program and garden, and to dialogue with the Principal and LSC. Young and old, current, past and prospective families gave impassioned testimony and asked questions that were  not easy to answer. This type of  circle of concern was able to get clarity on a number of issues, which I will report on below. We didn’t get to do any garden work! The discussion lasted two and a half hours before it devolved into smaller group discussions, sharing wonderful food, gooseberry lemonade, pico de gallo, watermellon with mint, etc,  and being seranded by Waters parent musicians.
At the same time, a group of people “talked” on Facebook about the same subjects, but unfortunately got many of the facts wrong. I wish they would have joined the circle, in person. But here are some of the misconceptions that were repeated:

Bring Ecology under control!
That the ecology program needs to be brought under the control or supervision of the school, the Principal, CPS. The FBers are confused because they lack knowledge of the development of the ecology program and garden, and its  complex and rich history. The garden / ecology program were created by a decision made by the LSC way back in 1991 to “do something” about the “asphalt desert”. At that time our school community was very stressed economically and the school was decrepit and under-resourced. The school contracted with the Center for City Schools to adopt a teaching and learning philosophy that encouraged the school community to act, to collaborate, to engage students, and parents, and community members and environmental partners to take on the problems that beset us and change the world. Teaching within the classroom was being transformed, empowering students, and teachers to pursue their curiosity about this world, and render it in science, music, art, math, history, etc. This is how the garden and ecology program got its start. This is when we learned that the river once flowed through our grounds, and about the disappeared plants communities that once grew around our ancient oaks. The ecology program and garden grew from scratch, and took many years of effort, partnering, relationship building. But it has always been integral to the school’s mission, vision, and curriculum. The LSC and Principal were always its biggest allies and defenders. Our first Principal used to say to our teachers and the eco-gardening program, “You go ahead. You do the good staff. My job is to protect your work.”
As one former LSC Chair said so eloquently yesterday,  the LSC and the garden and ecology were like one thing, everybody participated, from food to work to song.
The ecology program, as it grew from just one grade level to a full k-9 program was included in every SIP (School Improvement Plan). So, in short, the program has been “under” the school’s supervision from day one until now. I often tell visitors that it is the school that gives our garden its heft, its awesome gravity: it is the realization of years after years of student work and commitment, the physical embodiment of our proud  history.
It is also true that neither former Principal actively managed the garden or program. The management of the garden was given to me, first as an associate of the Center for City Schools (National-Louis U) and later through grants and finally funded by WT. I worked extremely closely with both previous Principals, an effective sharing of responsibility based on trust.
During these years the garden and ecology program have been showered with awards from science and environmental, arts  and educational organizations. Ecology was considered an essential.
So, the assertion that the program must be brought under “control”, that its current status is unsustainable, is simple wrong and without merit. It could be that some members of the past Council have misinformation about the garden because they are not involved, don’t take part and witness the day to day reality. I urge them and welcome them to do so.

There are Rules that must be followed
Another often repeated phrase of the FBers is that we have to “play by the rules”. No doubt there are rules. But the garden wouldn’t exist if we always and only played by the rules. Another speaker yesterday, who worked on city-wide school gardens for Green Corps, told us that you can visit other school gardens, dozens, that are moribund, in disrepair, trashed and dead. They simply weren’t able to build the relationships, partnerships, trust and innovations that sustain a healthy school / community garden.

Nobody’s Going to “destroy the garden”
Another FB complaint is my use of the words Save the Garden, or the Garden and ecology program are being destroyed. Yesterday Principal Rutkowski assured us that the garden wouldn’t be touched, “No bulldozers are coming”. But there are other ways to destroy a garden. If we stopped watering the vegetable beds for just one week in summer, they would all die. The gardeners who perform this task, daily, week in week out, do it out of the goodness of their hearts and love for the garden and school. The attacks on the garden and defunding of the ecology erode the bonds that keep our community functioning. The watering has to be coordinated, hoses have to be repaired and replaced, plumbing springs leaks. 
If we stopped weeding for the summer the garden would be choked by weeds. Perhaps some people take the garden for granted because they don’t see, don’t recognize the huge, sustained amounts of energy that go into maintaining its health and productivity. Look at the new gardens in and around the north swale. These were a CPS design and build project. Probably 60% of the plants have already been killed. There is no love or care invested in these plantings and it has been recognized that the entire area is going to have to be re-done. Is this not a scandal? That project costed hundreds of thousands of dollars. It was under CPS control. Where is the outrage? Why is the LSC cutting funding for the parts of the school grounds that are rich, diverse and healthy, and say not a word about this gross mis-use of school funds.

Thank you! 
Waters Ecology