Dear Mr. Rutkowski and members of the Waters School LSC,
I am a parent of a two-year old who lives across the street from Waters School. I chose to live here because of the Waters School Garden and Ecology program. I am no stranger to the garden: Twelve years ago I also lived across the street from Waters School while I was a Project Manager with Greencorps Chicago.
At that time, Greencorps existed under the Chicago Department of Environment (later CDOT) and was based out of the Chicago Center for Green Technology (CCGT). I worked for multiple years with community and school gardens across the city of Chicago. I have never found any garden that creates community and environmental education opportunities as we have at Waters School. The Ecology program led by Mr. Leki gives students year round opportunities and tools to explore their immediate environment with teachers, classmates, family, and friends. There are no other school grounds I know of with bicentennial oaks, extensive native
plant communities, abundant vegetable gardens, and fully engaged families and community members willing to support such a vast garden. This is the result of decades of hard work and dedication on the part of Mr. Leki and countless parents and community members.
If you disagree, please visit any other school garden across the city in the month of July or August and tell me otherwise. These are the months when Mr. Leki has rallied community members for many years to keep the plants on life support and carry them through intense summer heat to the first days of school. This is the sweat soaked truth behind the potato harvest by the first graders every year. It is Mr. Leki and a network of community members he organized who carry these plants through summer heatwaves and into the hands and bellies of Waters students and their families.
What else does Waters School have that other schools only dream of? Is there another school in CPS that has enrolled students to compost food waste from the cafeteria on site and use that waste to fertilize potatoes, tomatoes, and berries that students harvest with delight? What other school conducts prescribed burns of prairie and woodlands on the school grounds? Can you name one school that has unique songs that students sing about the local ecology such as “The
Legend of Snake and Turtle”, “Spider plant” and “How Come the Waters Brown”?
When I heard that Waters School has decided to significantly cut the budget of the Ecology program, I felt it like a punch in the gut. After years of volunteering in the garden and with a daughter who is on the verge of her first day of school, I have to ask myself: what does Waters School stand for? Does it include firsthand inquiry into the existential environmental crisis that we are faced with?
When will we fully support our students to learn from exploring their immediate surroundings to help them solve the problems of today? This is what the Waters Ecology program stands for and has instilled in our community. We need to fully fund it!
Brendon J. Gross
2507 W. Sunnyside
Mr. Gross noted the following petition on change.org: