Letters of Support

In summer 2022, Waters School cancelled its long-running Ecology Program. A petition on Change.Org garnered more than 1,500 signatures in support of the program, and the page below collects statements from many Waters School parents and neighbors.

From: Colleen McVeigh
Date: Thu, Jul 21, 2022

From: James Kennedy
Date: Thu, Jul 21, 2022 at 9:13 AM

Dear Waters School,

My name is James Kennedy and my children have been going to Waters for ten years now. I’m writing in support of retaining Pete Leki as the head of ecology at Waters. I am very disappointed with the chain of events that seems to be leading to him being squeezed out. The ecology program is the jewel of Waters—there’s nothing like it at any other school in CPS. That’s because Mr. Leki clearly pours his heart and soul into maintaining the garden, fostering a community, and teaching. When established programs like this get farmed out to outside organizations that don’t have institutional memory, to bureaucracies that aren’t invested in it, they tend to wither. The Field Museum doing the Mighty Acorns? Can anyone sincerely believe that a big organization like that, with no history in the community, will do as good a job as Mr. Leki, who has years of experience teaching and stewarding these programs?

Even if you believe the communications sent by Mr. Leki were intemperate in tone (I don’t), that is hardly a good reason to characterize it as “a major barrier to come to an arrangement.” After all the time, heart, and energy Mr. Leki has put into the ecology program, this is a disgraceful way to treat him. It’s okay to have someone with a crusading personality to head up this program. Sometimes it’s the only way to make things happen. When CPS had apparently made a decision to build the new annex on the garden, it was Mr. Leki who successfully roused the parents and the community to protest so that our beloved garden wouldn’t be destroyed. Who else do you think could be such an effective advocate?

The ecology program at Waters is a nationally recognized program because of the inspiring leadership of Mr. Leki. He puts tons of time and love into the garden because he is invested in it, and that inspires others to put their time and love into the garden.

Don’t make this terrible mistake. Reinstate Mr. Leki. If he is forced out, it will leave a terrible taste in the mouth for people in this community, and a lot of goodwill will be squandered. (And for what? What is Waters getting in return that is so important that Mr. Leki has to be kicked out?)


James Kennedy

From: Casey, John 
Date: Mon, Jul 18, 2022 at 10:06 PM

Hello Pete,

Susan shared the petition and it made me realize I never followed up with you about how the compost bin you provided benefited our school this year.

If it helps, please feel free to use this to further demonstrate the impact your program has beyond Waters. This is an email sent out to our entire staff on Earth Day.

In October, the Cameron 5th grade began composting food scraps from their lunch waste. 

5th grade students helped to put together the compost bin, to gather dried leaves, to measure, chop, and then mix in food scraps thru fall, winter, and now into spring.As of today, Earth Day, our 5th graders have diverted over 536 lbs of food scraps from the garbage!

That means 536 fewer pounds of food scraps in landfills creating greenhouse gases!

It also means we will have over 536 lbs of compost to enrich the soil around the trees in our parking lot!

And we’re still going… Ms. Castro provides coffee grounds each day and the Pre-K contributed scraps this week in celebration of Earth Week!

Hats off to all of our Cameron Environmentalists!!! 

As the school counselor, I found bringing kids outside and letting them dig for worms was a powerful way to address social/emotional concerns in a peaceful, engaging environment.

Thanks for all you have done and all you continue to do Pete.

All the best,

John Casey 
(He, Him, His)
Professional School Counselor
Cameron Magnet School of the Arts
1234 N. Monticello, Chicago, IL 60651

From: Sarah Abu-Absi 
Date: Mon, Jul 18, 2022 at 12:50 PM

Pete—just wanting to add my voice to the call to keep you. I’m sorry you’re going through this and sending you strength and gratitude!



I want to voice my support for keeping Pete Leki as head of the Ecology Program at Waters Elementary. I met Pete almost 20 years ago when I was working for the City of Chicago Dept of Environment and he was one of the inaugural participants in our green school programs. I and my colleagues were so inspired by Pete and the increíble work he was doing with the garden, with students and with the community. He has continually been an inspiration to me and so many others both personally and professionally. The program and whole community would not be the same without him. He lives and breathes the work of nurturing relationships in the human and more than human world, in a way that can’t be equated to a simple job description or budget line item. He and his contributions are invaluable. 

Thank you,

Sarah Abu-Absi

From: Philip Burke 
Date: Sat, Jul 16, 2022 at 2:30 PM

Dear Mr. Rutkowski and Waters School LSC,

Thank you both for taking time to visit with us last Saturday, I hope it was a useful opportunity to receive direct feedback from the community. I’m writing in support of the Waters Ecology program, Mr. Pete Leki and the role the garden plays within the community. 

My partner and I do not have children who attend Waters; however, over the past 6 yrs as volunteers, we have developed a strong connection to the school. Having recently purchased a place ½ block away on Maplewood, we could easily plant vegetables at home, yet we choose to have a plot at Waters for the simple fact that it provides us a conduit to one of the most vital components of any neighborhood and community, the school. Through our connection to Pete and our active participation in the garden (well beyond scheduled work days), be it helping prepare the vegetable plots for the students, washing potatoes and even picking up trash, we feel a direct bond to the school. From our perspective, the Waters Community garden and Ecology Program’s public outreach are the embodiment of effective community engagement and placemaking. We deeply appreciate our time spent on the grounds and see it as our responsibility to keep a watchful eye on this much loved public space. 

What has been achieved through this decades-long experiment at Waters Garden/School is quite miraculous and celebratory. With the support of the school, students, parents, neighbors and most notably Mr Leki, this space has become a welcoming and safe space for playing, learning, gathering, growing and communing. It is our hope that this program will be given the resources it requires to continue to thrive and adapt. We appreciate your thoughtfulness and concern.


Your Neighbors and Boosters, 

Phil and Melanie

From: Hudson, Rick
Date: Thu, Jul 14, 2022 at 8:47 PM

To whom it concerns,

Pete Leki is one of the most important parts of what makes Waters stand out as an excellent school. His impact is hard to quantify but nevertheless quite apparent to those who pay attention. The best way to appreciate nature is to experience it; this is far better than reading about it or watching videos. it is important to realize that nature is not some distant thing that is someplace else such as in the Amazon rainforest and the African savanna, but that it is also something in our back yards, our City and County parks, and, especially, patches of restored prairie and woodland.

Pete is not just a great teacher, he is a great naturalist. This knowledge is not easy to obtain; it accumulates with experience and observation. For example, I have enjoyed learning about native plants, edible nature, and rolly-pollies from him. He knows much more than me despite my Ph.D. in Biology.

To teach students about nature where it is takes effort. Outdoor field trips require a great deal of planning and supervision. This preparation does not necessarily appear on schedules.


Dr. Richard Hudson
Ph.D in Evolutionary Biology and Ecology, University of Arizona
Waters parent since 2016

Vicki Thoms
Date: Thu, Jul 14, 2022 at 7:52 AM

Hi Pete, 

I am not involved in CPS anymore and have unfortunately moved out of the neighborhood so I have been seeing this unfold through your emails. With all due respect to whoever put together that job description, they are insane (!) if they think that is an adequate candidate for what you do, never mind how well you do it and for how loyal you have been all these years to Waters School. I am sorry it has come to this. I feel bad for you although I know eventually you will be just fine because you can take your talents elsewhere to a place that values them. I really feel bad for the next generation of students who will not have the pleasure to enjoy the very well oiled machine of a program you had created and cultivated over the years. The garden will continue to grow, the students will continue to grow, but the heart of the school will be missing more than a beat without your leadership. 

I hope they reconsider with perhaps an alternative wage that can make it more palatable for you to stay. If not , it truly is their loss and when the program goes south they can only blame themselves. 

Share my thoughts with anyone as you please. I would be happy to elaborate with anyone who would listen. 

Your friend and neighbor,

Vicki Thoms

From: Vanessa King 
Date: Wed, Jul 13, 2022 at 11:17 PM

Dear Mr. Rutkowski and the LSC Members,

The current discussions around the Ecology program are complex and hard to navigate, and we know that this decision with many facets was not made lightly. As parents of an incoming 3rd grader and Pre-K student, we wanted to let you know our experience with the Ecology program lead by Mr. Leki over our last three years at this school.

I (Vanessa) have personally been on many field trips as a chaperone to the river, and I’ve seen first hand the students as they learn about the environment throughout the seasons. These trips to the river were formative for my daughter’s respect of the earth and the community we live in. Teaching children to work together to care for their surroundings builds them into kind individuals, contributing to our community as adults. In our current social environment this is something we need now more than ever.

Our daughter puts the lessons from Mr. Leki into practice in her daily life.  She reminds us not to waste water in our daily use, she encourages us to pick up litter when we’re outside in nature, and she’s even memorized the look and names of a dozen different local birds. She always mentions Mr Leki’s classes when she does this.

There have been numerous studies on gardening and mental health benefits. The positive effects of getting our children off their screens and out in nature is immeasurable. I (Matt) work in the software technology industry for one of the world’s largest Agriculture companies. I find the education component that the Ecology program offers to Waters students to be unique and necessary in a child’s understanding of our changing environment. As climate change continues to affect agriculture and ecology in all our communities, understanding our environment in the way this Ecology program provides is critical to growing a new generation of students that will care for our planet.

We do hope you are considering all of these aspects when thinking about the future direction of the ecology program’s funding and the importance of Mr Leki’s leadership, guidance, and direction.  

Thank you all for your time and dedication to the Waters school and community,

Vanessa King and Matt Jankowiak

From: Susan Casey 
Date: Wed, Jul 13, 2022 at 5:54 PM

Dear Waters LSC and Waters administration —

The Ecology Program at Waters School is an exemplary model of environmental education and community-building not only within CPS, but nationally. 

This program that Pete Leki has developed over decades enables all Waters students at every grade level to explore and learn about their local ecosystems and how to grow food through regular field trips throughout the year. Waters students get to visit the Chicago River, Lake Michigan, local forest preserves, as well as the school’s own amazing edible and native plant gardens and heritage oak trees.

These regular opportunities to form a personal connection with nature, and Pete’s way of inviting the wider community into the process, foster a sense of wonder and a sense of place for students, both of which are more important than ever given our current climate crisis, loss of biodiversity, and social disconnection. 

In addition to fostering community and sharing knowledge with Waters families and neighborhood, Pete has always been welcoming of anyone to visit the garden, feel part of a community, and learn, especially for visitors from other CPS schools. I’ve been a recipient of that welcome on numerous occasions, including when I learned how to manage onsite school composting through the Composting Cohort that Pete led, which enabled me to bring it to a neighboring school. 

The Waters Ecology Program needs to be replicated, not cut back. I encourage you to find a solution that preserves the intended funding for the Waters Ecology Program and Pete’s position so that Pete may continue to lead a program that benefits not only Wasters students, but continues to serve as a model for all schools in CPS and beyond.


Susan Casey

Zero Waste Schools Program Manager, Seven Generations Ahead

Former CPS science teacher and garden club leader

From: Megan Duffy
Date: Wed, Jul 13, 2022 at 12:35 PM

Dear Mr. Rutkowski, Ms. Martin, and Waters LSC,

We are writing this letter in support of Mr. Pete Leki maintaining the job description and commensurate compensation that has been in place as the Director of Ecology since 2018.  

The Ecology Program at Waters Elementary is THE reason we enrolled our oldest child, Thomas, in Waters as a Kindergartener.  It was an enormous factor in our decision to buy a home in this neighborhood, even though a dollar doesn’t stretch as far here as it can in other areas of the city.  

As a recent 8th grade graduate, Thomas has had the opportunity to be steward of our natural spaces under the guidance of Mr. Leki on field trips every year.  He was fortunate to participate in the Mighty Acorns camp opportunity during 2 summers to broaden his understanding of the impact each of us has on our environment.  Thomas served as a recycling captain on multiple occasions during his tenure at Waters and brought home newfound knowledge each year from his work in the garden on campus.  

We hope our current 5th grader, and all students at Waters, can continue to benefit in similar ways.

These invaluable learning experiences were possible because of Mr. Leki and his Ecology Program.  The program holds a significance on par, at the least, with learning to read and write.  These learning opportunities can not be “picked up” by the classroom teacher.  

We do not believe the Ecology Program can be sustained and nourished without Pete Leki’s stewardship.  The work that is currently in place, the program that Mr. Leki has spent decades creating, can not be replicated or replaced by filling the job description suggested for the “Ecology Miscellaneous”.   

In addition, as past, present, and future supporters of Waters Today, it has been our understanding that our donations have been primarily intended to support Waters unique Ecology Program.

We are asking Waters administration and the LSC to work in partnership with Mr. Leki to overcome any bureaucratic obstacles that are in place and to ensure Mr. Leki’s position and compensation remain intact.


Megan and Patrick Duffy

From: Richardson, Sarah 
Date: Wed, Jul 13, 2022 at 11:44 AM

Principal Rutkowski,

I am writing because I’m concerned that Mr. Leki’s position is being reduced.  Before my adoptive son came home, my husband and I had to decide which school district we wanted to live in. We decided to move into an apartment in the Waters School District because of the ecology program, which shows how important it is to us.  We are against the reduction in the program.

Mr. Leki’s job description from 2018 puts him as the head of a program: https://docs.google.com/document/d/15w9-y3YFZlE-V8n167gDHH3MLD15mq7KvJCf9T4ijuI/edit?usp=sharing If you look at the description, you can see that it describes a job that involves a lot of planning and coordination with other groups in the community.  Mr. Leki’s current position also requires coordinating volunteers for activities on and off campus.  I know this because several times I’ve been a volunteer helping with Mr. Leki’s activities on the school grounds. 

The proposed new job description really doesn’t fit what Mr Leki is doing.  It describes an employee who assists teachers, not a director of a program.  Mr. Leki does work with teachers, but he is the person planning and preparing for the activities, not the person assisting other teachers.  Bringing in volunteers also doesn’t seem to be part of the new job description.

If you hired another person to the fill the job that the new job description describes, that would really reduce the the Ecology Program.

Please reconsider reducing the Ecology Program.  Besides finding an apartment in the district, I’ve also given donations to Waters Today to make sure that the program continues to be high-quality.

Sarah Richardson

From: Arunas Statkus 
Date: Wed, Jul 13, 2022 at 9:28 AM

To whom it may concern,

I Became a volunteer at Waters School Garden 15 years ago when I was walking by the garden one day and was drawn in by this improbably open and natural space in the middle of the dense city. I have since heard countless similar stories of how others discovered Waters.

Becoming a member of this community has been one of the most unexpected and best parts of my time in this neighborhood. When I purchased a home a decade ago, much of my decision was based on staying in this neighborhood and near this community.

What Pete Leki and the community have built and grown over the years is unique in the city, and the interface of the community and the school through the garden give both the school and the community strength. Community members who otherwise would not be involved in Waters enhance the school, and the community of gardeners and volunteers become stakeholders in the school community and genuinely care about what’s happening at Waters. Sure, we like to garden, but we also all believe in supporting the garden and the ecology program that have been growing in this space for 30+ years. We have all contributed countless hours over the years because we believe in this place and the vision behind it.

Any American would take a 30% pay cut as an insult and an invitation to quit. The former LSC member who spoke at the garden gathering on Saturday (July 9) offhandedly saying that setting Mr. Leki’s salary where they did seven years ago was a mistake just adds to the insult. The mistake to us is that you’re treating him so poorly now and not properly valuing this singular asset.

I’ve lived in Chicago long enough to see where this is going and it’s really sad to watch it unfold this way.  I’m sure whatever you replace Mr. Leki with will be something, but I likely won’t stick around for it, and I believe many other garden volunteers won’t either, but I suspect that may be the point and the plan. It’s really unfortunate that you’re willing to shatter this unique bond with the community that’s been built over the decades. I’d imagine the ecology program will go forward in some diminished form and may again be something to celebrate, but it will not happen immediately and I suspect it will cost much more than the proposed cut of 30% from Mr. Leki’s salary.

After seeing how poorly prepared and equipped CPS was for the pandemic, perhaps more surprising than hearing that the ecology program was being defunded, was learning that CPS does not fully fund technology staff in the schools. Why are nonprofit groups raising money for something so essential as technology when it’s clear that being proficient in technology will only be more essential in the future? What future are you preparing these kids for? The LSC should be asking why pandemic relief funds from the American Rescue Plan aren’t being invested to bolster technology in the schools, rather than debating cutting the ecology program. The money is apparently there, but sadly not being put to use.*

Finally, it was insulting as a member of the community to hear the LSC make the lazy and cynical insinuation that the garden needs to be brought under the school’s control because a teacher who was hired and vetted by CPS abused a student while he was a teacher at the school, under direct school supervision. It’s reprehensible to associate the garden volunteers with this ugly affair that the school was responsible for and clearly mismanaged. The LSC should apologize to the community for trying to tie the good that happens in the garden to the ugliness that they and the administration missed in the school. If you believe the garden needs to come under the school’s control, the very least you can do is be honest about why that is, but don’t drag the community into your lurid affairs.

* “Chicago Public Schools is flush with federal COVID-19 relief cash but is spending little of it;” WBEZ, March 24, 2022 – https://www.wbez.org/stories/chicago-public-schools-is-flush-with-federal-covid-19-relief-cash-but-is-spending-little-of-it/5709a19a-911e-4f74-a188-44a1274ac0a7


-Arunas Statkus, Waters Garden volunteer, concerned community member and confounded taxpayer

From: Marcy Kollath
Date: Tue, Jul 12, 2022 at 9:08 PM

Dear Mr. Rutkowski:

My son Paul, a former student of Waters School, thrived there and found it to be a wonderful learning experience. He is now 22 but has never forgotten those great experiences in the garden and on on field trips where students documented the plants they saw and where they were found. I credit all the wonderful teachers there, though there was one person who held the theme of ecological programming together consistently. Pete Leki is a treasure to your school. He not only is incredibly well informed on the topics regarding ecology, he walks the walk, he demonstrates how to improve the planet. It is hard to imagine that after all these years there is consideration of a pay cut for him. In my mind he has been the backbone of your programming all these years. He does not just run an ecology program, he has worked that land, and made it a useful resource for study. He has brought the neighborhood community and school community together. What he has done is literally bring life to your school. He is multitalented and demonstrates his love of the land by sharing his knowledge, his resources, and know how on the school grounds as well as on field trips. I can’t imagine how many hours he has put into the grounds at Water’s. All the different facets of his talents have been shared with Waters students, families, and community over the years. He saw a need and he filled it. What he has provided the school, students and their families is priceless. He is a gem for your school! A man like Pete leads from his heart, he is passionate about ecology, and that is something you’d be hard pressed to copy and bottle. My hope is that you’ll continue to pay him what he is worth as he is truly a valuable asset to Waters School and the community.


Marcy Kollath

From: Robert C. Zacks 
Date: Tue, Jul 12, 2022 at 2:03 PM

It’s difficult for me to comment on the politics of education.  Everyone will have a different view expressed in different ways.  I have never had an interest in “social media” from day 1 of the Internet. I realize that this is how many choose to express their views.

Here’s what I can comment on: 

I have known Mr. Leki since long before we even had children.  There is no doubt that he has poured his entire heart and soul into the work that he does.  He cares deeply about his work and your children.  If you don’t believe this you don’t know him.  His efforts, vision, and leadership have defined Waters Elementary.  I have said this for many years.  His work, with many others, has significantly changed the reputation of Waters for the better. 

Perhaps we are taking a short term view to a long term issue.  Investing in Mr. Leki and his ecology program focuses our children to consider broad issues.  We need broad thinkers in our future and we need to start children down this path early.  This is not just an ecology issue.  Previous generations failed at this and we have an obligation to do better.  A textbook version of ecology will fail to achieve this broad view.

It’s a matter of trust; I trust Mr. Leki to run the ecology program as he sees fit. I trust him to allocate his time as appropriate. I trust him to educate our children for the future.  I trust that we are spending our money wisely with Mr. Leki.  You simply cannot replace the impact that Mr. Leki has had today and long into the future.  Trust him and fund him.

Robert Zacks

From: Andrea Dennis 
Date: Mon, Jul 11, 2022 at 3:52 PM

Dear Waters Local School Council (LSC),

Thank you for taking the time to read my letter in support of reinstating the compensation of Pete Leki. My name is Andrea Dennis. I am a resident of the community (Maplewood and Sunnyside). I moved to this school district for my future children to attend Waters because of the ecology program. I am a volunteer in the garden. I have also partnered with Waters during my time as the Director of Environmental Education at Friends of the Parks and most recently as an After School Matters instructor utilizing the garden as a classroom space. I attended the community meeting on July 9, 2022 to learn more about the defunding of the ecology program. I urge you to re-examine this decision for the following reasons:

  • INACCURATE CODIFIED ROLE & RESPONSIBILITIES: Mr. Leki’s role has been erroneously categorized. The comparison of his role being a coach or after school program is instructor, grossly misrepresents his role, experience and responsibilities at the school. His responsibilities necessitate time behind the scenes to prep for his instructional time. This is not assessed AT ALL in the current coding of his role. The work he does (for example to prep potatoes for the kindergartners) takes months of preparation and is unaccounted for. His ability to take students to the Forest Preserves because he is registered and trained with that institution, which couldn’t happen with anyone else, is unaccounted for. The expert knowledge he has and level of experience is unaccounted for. The longstanding connections he has with community groups that helps students connect with real world issues is unaccounted for.  The budget and coding of his role needs to be reassessed. 
  • DEFUNDED PROGRAM THROUGH REDIRECTED NONPROFIT FUNDS: Waters Today was created to fund the ecology program, now that nonprofit nor the donors of that nonprofit (which I am counted amongst), have agency to fund the ecology program. His compensation is no longer able to be subsidized by that nonprofit (or others like it since those decisions would go through the school).
  • DIVISIVE NARRATIVES: The narratives that it was a mistake he received the salary he did; that he should be defunded because other schools don’t have a role like this; or that some teachers are upset plays into a race to the bottom mentality. In the current climate change and mental health catastrophes our youth are facing, we absolutely owe it to the next generation to invest in programs and stewards of the land and community. What example do we show when we defund a program like this or position? Who wins?  This decision is demoralizing and divisive and the ones hurting are our children. 
  • INTANGIBLES OF THE HIS ROLE & THE ECOLOGY PROGRAM: There are numerous studies around what keeps a community safe, and all hands point back to community engagement. The garden keeps the school safe. How can we count the number of prevented crimes or prevented mental health breakdowns because of the garden? This has to be taken into consideration or the value of the program is grossly undervalued.
  • CLOAK OF SECRECY AROUND THIS DECISION: If the community knew that there was any sort of possibility that this role and program would be defunded by 30% there would have been an outpouring of civic engagement to join LSC and Waters Today.

I’m disappointed that in a moment like this when we are facing so many threats to the safety of our children, we have to spend energy in fighting to have this role and program NOT be defunded. But I also have hope. I have hope in all of you that this outcry will help you call forth the value and importance of this program. That you will fight with every fibre that you have to think creatively to act on behalf of our youth and reinstate this funding.

Thank you for your support of refunding Mr. Leki’s role and showing the value of this program. 


Andrea Dennis

From: Holly Hutto 
Date: Sun, Jul 10, 2022 at 5:14 PM

As the mother of a Waters graduate I want to speak on behalf of Mr. Leki and the garden that he has put his heart and soul into creating. Asking Mr. Leki to do the same job he has been doing for a 30% pay cut is a slap in the face. I know there are those out there arguing that it is not a pay cut because he wasn’t paid through CPS before, but that is an argument of semantics. However you want to phrase it, he is being asked to do the same job for less money. I do not think any person out there, if put in the same situation, would not feel undervalued and unappreciated. Many would seek employment elsewhere. We do not want to lose Mr. Leki. We want him to continue helping the garden and ecology program thrive and to be able to train someone to take over the reins when he chooses it is time. 

I know I speak for many families when I say that the garden was one of the main reasons why we chose to go to Waters. It is a school treasure, a community treasure, and a model for garden projects throughout the city. It is truly a one-of-a-kind program that has brought positive attention to Waters and helped the school to grow. Even though other schools may have gardens, they do not compare to the Waters garden and ecology program. They are smaller, more restricted in scope, and are often unattended during the summer, with plants left to wilt and die. Some of my daughter’s fondest memories of Waters are her trips to Sauganash and times spent in the garden. Although now 21, she still has her Mighty Acorns journal. A previous tomato and potato hater, the garden taught her a love of the vegetables coming from the earth – plucked fresh off the vine or dug out from the dirt and roasted. It taught her countless valuable, if unmeasurable, lessons—lessons that more of us need. 

I attended the garden gathering on Saturday and feel that the Principal and former LSC representative did not make their case to those in attendance. As number pushers, they are trying to make the ecology program fit into the previously established CPS boxes, without taking into account that the program is unique and does not fully fit into any of those boxes. The principal kept comparing Mr. Leki’s pay rate with what is paid to nonprofit vendors that offer services in the school – although those vendors work in many schools, often have other programs as well, and are usually supported by their own fundraising outside of the school. They kept saying that it isn’t fair to other teachers when Mr. Leki’s teaching hours are not equal to a full-time position, without acknowledging that the ecology program is much more than the “established” teaching hours. Much teaching happens after hours, when students come to the garden with their families and Mr. Leki tells them about the plants and animals that they see. In my daughter’s years at Waters, we were treated to an up-close view of a young deer in the garden, and a hawk that spent a day in the garden eating a rabbit that it caught. During a partial eclipse, Mr. Leki was there with the tools needed to help the children watch it and to tell them about it. Families and children were invited to help work on the garden and the natural areas by the river. Very little of this teaching time was taken into account, because it doesn’t fit within the box.  

Also, they failed to account for the many, many, many hours of work Mr. Leki puts into stewardship and maintaining the garden. Yes, all teachers work hard and put in extra hours and money and I have nothing but respect for all of their hard work. But, the principal and LSC are trying to say that Mr. Leki only works part-time, when he works more than full-time hours, year-round—including summer. The amount of work that it takes to maintain the garden – the most important part of the ecology program, because without the garden, the ecology program would be a shadow of what it is – is itself a full-time job. I used to live just a few doors down from the garden, and I would see Mr. Leki there all the time maintaining the garden. I understand that these hours may not count as teaching time, so let’s find another CPS box to put them in—grounds maintenance—or something better that recognizes the skilled work of a professional certified in stewardship. In fact, as Mr. Leki pointed out, the only reason that Waters’ students are able to go to Sauganash and join in stewardship work year after year after year is because he is a certified steward with the Forest Preserve.  

My daughter started at Waters when Waters Today was just formed. They were formed to help fund the garden (knowing that the garden was the biggest draw to help them bring local students to the school) and other programs that did not fit in the school’s budget but that parents felt were important additions to the school. It was the parents’ vehicle to bring money in support of experiences they felt were important for the children. Now, I hear, Waters Today has lost a voice in how the money they raise gets spent. I don’t know or really understand the history behind how or why that decision was made. The discussion at the meeting didn’t really clarify it for me. I did hear someone say that that’s how fundraising arms of schools work – the money is turned over to the school to be spent as the school sees fit. I don’t agree with that, unless CPS has decided they have some control over money that donors thought was earmarked for specific programs. I do know that I’ve seen plenty of school fundraisers raising money for specific programs. I also know that donors to nonprofit organizations can designate their donations for specific programs. It appears that the school has determined otherwise, though. I’m wondering though, can Waters Today act as a fiscal agent for the entity Mr. Leki had to create for the ecology program, so that money can be raised for ecology—for that entity—but handled through Waters Today? That would require setting up a separate account for that entity so that all donations made for ecology would be deposited there.  

At the meeting, the Principal thought the best solution would be to create another nonprofit for the ecology program, with a mission that is broader than just Waters School. Many people voiced concerns about that solution, because Waters Today was initially set up to raise money for the ecology program and other programs outside the school budget. There was concern that they would again go through all the expense and effort and wind up in the same situation, with the LSC and school taking over control of the money.  I agree with these concerns. Possibly, if the mission does not mention Waters School, this can be avoided—but, the organization would have to be very careful about who they let on the board. I’ve seen many nonprofits that, due to the personal interests of the board members, have lost their way and rejected their founders and mission. It is a real possibility that the same thing could happen. It is also a possibility that animosity will grow if the LSC feels that this nonprofit it taking away donations from the school because those who were donating to Waters Today primarily to fund the garden may now send their donations to the new nonprofit.  

As I mentioned above, I feel the best solution is to fund part of Mr. Leki’s work through the teacher metric that was used, but to fund his other work through a different CPS budget category—without cutting his pay—and let Mr. Leki continue his beautiful efforts and work towards training others to continue the legacy in the future.  

I am hoping the school does the right thing to ensure ALL of Mr. Leki’s work is recognized and compensated so that the Waters Garden and ecology program can continue to bring education, beauty, stewardship, peace, and joy to the students, school, community, and city for many years to come.


Holly Hutto
mother of Waters graduate, class of 2015  

From: Vladimir von klan 
Date: Sun, Jul 10, 2022 at 3:41 PM

Dear waters school my name is Vladimir Von Klan and I was a student of Pete Leki at waters. The program is an amazing way for young kids to learn about nature and the nature around us kids these days should be bound by technology and things that aren't healthy for them. Learning about nature will help these kids. By destroying the garden and the program it’s self won’t be the smartest idea at all you will be stripping these student from learning amazing things about our world it sickens me that the human race takes away the beautiful things in nature to put in something man made let these students learn about nature let nature thrive I beg of the school board and whom ever is in charge to not make this decision. I work for the California conservation corps and I fight to keep nature thriving the things I have learned from Pete’s program has lead me to my work that I do now.

Date: Fri, Jul 8, 2022 at 4:25 PM

To whom it may concern:

I am writing to fervently request the reinstatement of Pete Leki’s full compensation and an alignment of funding initiatives to support Waters community. I am a Chicago resident who moved to Maplewood and Sunnyside solely because of the Waters Ecology Program and so that my future children can attend Waters because of this ecology program. I am also an environmental educator who became acquainted with the Waters program and Mr. Leki when I directed the Friends of the Parks, Nature Along the Lake program. I worked with many educators from around the city, and by far, Mr. Leki’s extensive knowledge of the Chicago water system and his passion for integrated ways of teaching (song, poetry and facts) stood out. He was one of the only educators to engage his students to write campaign letters on behalf of conserving more land at the Montrose dunes for the highly endangered Piping Plovers. Through his efforts and others, this came to be. I come from a long line of educators, and I know that schools across the country long for educators like Mr. Leki. Ones that live in the community, are oral storytellers of its history, and believe in the power of youth. Mr. Leki is a community asset and a powerful teacher. As an educator, he has created a nature oasis in the city, where students experience placemaking and nature based learning. Both of which are crucial learning styles in a post-Covid and environmental crisis moment. I call for the full reinstatement of his compensation. I am happy to discuss this further and to offer additional insights into this request. I appreciate your time and reconsideration of this important matter for both the Waters community and the next generation of environmental stewards our planet desperately needs. 

Andrea Dennis
Resident of Maplewood & Sunnyside
Current Head of People & Culture at Earthshot Labs & ASM Instructor
Former Director of Education at Friends of the Parks

From Sol and Leo

“Before I met you, Pete, I met your gardening. My daughter was two and my son three months, my friend Thais invited me to the garden to talk, to allow our toddlers escape condo living for a few hours and, hopefully… if we were lucky, to garden around.

We had no idea how to garden. Ha!

I remember not knowing how to distinguish a baby oak tree growing in our plot from a strawberry plant!

Twelve years have gone since and now, not only can I distinguish those two, but I can also compost, read the health of an area, distinguish male/female monarchs, know the geological history.

And so my children thank you Pete, for all your deeds, thank you for the grapes, the raspberries, the pizza, the garlic mustard pesto, the shady bench, the climbable trees, the mulch, the songs, the snake and turtle legend, the physical manifestations of your love.

Thank you,

Sol (Leo and Mika’s mom)

Dear Pete Leki,

Thank you for all your hard work making the garden. I really enjoy playing in nthe trees (that you planted) and eating fresh pizza from the oven (that you made), and all the other events. Thank you again for lanting all the plants. I really enjoyed picking grapes and going on field trips with you to Sauganash. So I don’t understand why the’re giving you less money and a smaller budget for the garden and I do hope the money balances to back to normal.

Leo Hinami

Date: Fri, Jul 8, 2022 at 10:40 AM

To Whom It May Concern.

We, Javier Obregon and Alicia Mayorca, Waters’s parents and neighbors, write in the highest possible terms to ask to keep Mr. Leki as the head of the ecology program at Waters Elementary with full funding.

Waters Ecology program as many of you know is one of a kind, as proofs: a Green Ribbon School 2012 and a 2003 Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum’s Educational Leader Award. All of this was doubtless possible thanks to the vision and hard work of Mr. Leki. Without him, this beloved  (and successful) program by many will likely not continue to thrive at the hands of others.

On a personal note, The Ecology program is in fact so special that we found it all the way back to Venezuela when we were researching about good schools for our daughters before making our move. The garden and the ecology program were the biggest and strongest selling points of Waters and the neighborhood in general. It soothed our fears about CPS schools, and it served as a reassurance that if that school had this program, they must be having the right approach on education and shared the core values we are looking for our children.

We have seen firsthand how our daughters and peers have grown, learned and eaten the food from the Water’s garden. We have walked around the neighborhood identifying trees which unfolded so many conversations about habitats and comparisons about trees and animals to other locations we have visited around the world. We have seen (and kept as treasures) the field journals. We have sung Mr. Leki’s songs. Our girls have knowledge of recycling, waste management, and nature conservation. This ecology program, the garden and Mr. Leki planted the conservation seed and awoke so many important realities about climate change, solutions and opportunities of change in our children and we expect to continue that way.

Each of us has volunteered on at least 1 field trip per year for each of our kid’s classrooms, which translates to 4 field trips per school year for this family household. We have seen an learned… and we have the pictures to prove it.

I (Alicia) have also volunteered as a garden waterer for 2 years in the past. I spent many summer nights taking walks among the plants, watering, and letting my kids recharge in the greenest environment available around us. We have made lifetime friends, and have enjoyed many wonderful moments. 

We have heard so many times: You’re so lucky to be in the Waters district. We immediately think about Mr. Leki and all the wonderful things he has taught our girls in these past 5 years.

In a nation with issues like gun violence, segregation, entitlement, privilege, and arbitrary decisions, we need a generation with the capacity to empathize and address this challenging reality. Haven’t we learned a thing? Don’t we want to be the generation that will bring a positive change to this society? Many studies point out that students that interact with nature enhance their overall mental and physical health. (We will be happy to share the a reference lists and bibliographies to whoever might need them.)

As parents of 3, We find the garden as a peaceful and safe place where our kids have become more aware of how this interconnectedness builds healthy and thriving communities and, in turn, our children become better citizens.

We hope you have the time and capacity to consider what the garden and ecology program means to many of us.


Javier Obregón and Alicia Mayorca

From: Alicia Mayorca <alicia.mayorca@gmail.com>
Date: Fri, Jul 8, 2022 at 11:28 AM

Date: Thu, Jul 7, 2022 at 9:08 PM

Our family fully supports the retention and investment in the Ecology program under the wise, caring, dedicated hands of Mr. Leki. The garden feeds our bellies, nourishes our souls, enriches our minds and grounds us in the Waters school, local community, and city of Chicago. The ecology program cultivates a sense of curiosity for our students that is unique within CPS schools and most definitely impacts children inside the classroom and in their lives beyond the academic realm. It brings connection, beauty and hope to all who choose to take time to appreciate it. Teachers like Mr. Leki offer the great gift of expanding our students understanding and appreciation of the natural (real) world. 

The MacDonald family (Water's parents / Water's students / Gardeners / Neighbors) 

Date: Thu, Jul 7, 2022 at 8:16 PM
To Whom It May Concern,

In light of recent developments related to the Ecology Program at Waters Elementary, I would like to share my experience and opinions regarding Pete Leki in particular and the Ecology Program’s contribution to the school, the neighborhood and the community as a whole. I should say up front that I am Mr. Leki’s son-in-law, so my perspective is biased. However, this also means that I have witnessed the profound effect of Pete’s work in the community and garden, and what they both mean to him. Pete has reestablished natural areas in our neighborhood, educated countless children and others about natural history, built a community that supports nature and each other, and spoken out when any of these things are compromised or threatened. In the face of climate change, environmental degradation and corrupt politics, we need people like Pete to continue his work.

When I first met Pete in the late 1990’s, he was pioneering a restoration project with Friends of the Chicago River along the East bank between Montrose and Berteau. Since then, the riverbank path that he helped construct and stewarded has become a model for thoughtful, beautiful and sustainable natural areas in our very own neighborhood in the heart of a huge metropolis. During its construction and maintenance, Pete gathered, trained, mentored and worked alongside a diverse group of neighbors and people from all over the city to share in it. This is how you build community that cares for the environment and works together to accomplish improvements.

The garden at Waters is, in many ways, a miracle. I have watched it change and grow over the last decade and it is indisputably the highlight of our neighborhood school. The experiences and opportunities to learn afforded to so many Waters students and families (including both of my children, one of whom still attends the school) have been exceptional and invaluable. The planning, organization and vigilance required to create and maintain this space is a testament to the Ecology Program, its consistent supporters, and Mr. Pete Leki. In particular, his vision, knowledge and dedication have been a necessary guiding light for those who would contribute to the sustenance, improvement and continued protection of the garden and what it represents. The idea that his pay would be cut or that he would be removed or asked to leave as the leader of the Ecology program is confounding, upsetting and frankly misguided. Not because I think it will be a loss for him (which it would), but because it would be a loss for our school, our neighborhood and our community.

I think the garden and the Ecology Program more than meets one of the most fundamental qualities of a neighborhood school that successfully serves its community. The values and priorities of the students, their families and the community as a whole should be at the core of its mission. If we value collaboration, cooperative learning, equality, inclusion, and the natural world as a community (and I think that we do), we should expect our neighborhood school to reflect that. If we want to fight climate change and be effective in teaching our children to understand and care for the natural world, it is programs like Ecology and people like Mr. Leki that will help us succeed.

CPS is a large district managing a huge number of schools in different neighborhoods with a diverse student and family population. As a large organization, they have to make decisions based on broad metrics, financial factors and, dare I say, political considerations. At the neighborhood school level, we are subject to the policies based on these considerations. Sometimes these policies do not align with our values. We have to be ready and willing to do things in a way that makes sense to us as a community, even when they are in conflict with these policies. To me, this means fostering environmental leadership, questioning practices that endanger nature, working and learning the best way forward together. One way we can o this is by maintaining the things that make our neighborhood and school special. Like the garden and the Ecology Program as they are currently managed. I believe we are right, and indeed impelled, to stand up and speak out against the policies that do not support these things. As a CPS graduate and a long time Waters parent, North Center resident, business owner, nature-lover and teacher, I stand with Mr. Leki as the caretaker of the garden and leader of Ecology Program.

Jeffrey Burris

Date: Thu, Jul 7, 2022 at 5:41 PM
To Whom It May Concern: 

I’m writing in support of keeping Mr. Leki as head of ecology at Waters at the same level of pay that he’s currently at.  Mr. Leki is irreplaceable because of his hard work, memory of the history of the garden, and function as a pied piper for the kids.  Each year, he leads an astonishingly large number of experiences around the garden and field trips in the area for the kids at Waters.  Many of the experiences need hours of work to be successful; for example, Mr. Leki spends days every spring gluing together field notebooks after leaf collection and tree identification by students.  I’m guessing that his Google calendar doesn’t reflect the amount of work that he does. 

Mr. Leki’s knowledge of the history of the garden and knowledge of natural history and restoration in Chicago couldn’t be replaced by another teacher.  To be able to lead a successful field trip, an instructor needs to be able to answer questions about plants or animals that the group encounters by chance.  Only someone with a deep background from working with nature in the area could do it.  Finally, Mr. Leki acts like a Pied Piper with his songs and stories that teach kids knowledge about and love of the natural world around them.  I don’t think that any other instructor could bring all of these qualities to the position of ecology teacher.  Please keep Mr. Leki as the ecology teacher with full funding. 

Sarah Richardson 

Mother of Jobson Hudson, 6th grade 

Date: Thu, Jul 7, 2022 at 3:39 PM

This leaves me heartbroken and shocked. What a complete and utter lack of understanding for your work, your value, the progress you have facilitated among people of all ages, what you mean to the kids, their families, the community at large. In my opinion, you were the single greatest asset we found in all of CPS, either at Disney magnet or Waters. We had some great teachers, but the ecology program and learning/playing in the garden were the ONLY reliably good resources year after year. 

In my opinion, you created the template of a school ecology program and community garden. A project that is a widely popular and requested school/community offering. I simply cannot believe that the LSC supports this action.

Sending love and support. Should you ever consider a move, please consider denver. Although any community would benefit from all that you do. 

And no matter what, I look forward to your continuing to speak the truth. Certainly it makes you a target but one of the few true advocates for the kids and the Earth in Chicago. 

Sending love and strength - Alli

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 organizes 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 Gross
W. Sunnyside 2507

I have long been an enthusiastic supporter of the Waters Ecology Program and Garden.  I am a retired person and cannot work physically anymore, but until a few years ago, I had a garden plot in the garden.  I volunteered with garden maintenance and also with the ecology program.  In all these activities, I had a chance to observe the multiple and unique benefits of these programs.  

In the garden, among other things, the children learn the basics of botany.  They learn how to grow and care for food. They also learn about the role that native trees and plants play in the environment. But the garden is not only a learning place.  It's also a creative play space and an oasis for the students' families and neighbors.  Those who do not own property can garden there, and all can enjoy the natural beauty.  The ancient oaks and the native plants provide a living history of our presettlement home.

On the ecology field trips, the children learn about, explore, and work to restore, natural sites within close driving distances.  They keep detailed journals of their experiences and of the information and concepts that they are studying.  This unique program is known throughout the city and beyond and has served as an example to other schools that hope to develop similar programs.  As the climate crisis intensifies and these children become adults, this kind of learning will be urgently needed.

It is a disgrace that money for education is in such short supply in our country and that worthy programs have to compete with each other for funding.  But the Waters Ecology Program and its Garden will not only have wide and lasting benefits to the children and the Waters community.  But as a model program in the city of Chicago it has a great significance.  I urge whoever has the ability to make this decision to continue to support these programs fully!

Nancy Freehafer
2506 W. Cullom

Dear Waters Community,

I am shocked and very saddened to hear about the challenges the ecology program is facing at our school. My daughter was fortunate enough to have been accepted to Waters through the lottery and we were so happy when we got the news she could go there. One of the core reasons we selected Waters was because of the ecology program as it offers such an enriching educational experience that is vital for young people to have. Mr. Leki not only teaches the students about the natural world around them but allows kids, parents, teachers and the local community to play an important role in supporting and sustaining this planet. And through his work we can all realize that this is no easy task but through years of dedication, perseverance and above all, team work, that we can all benefit our natural world together no matter how old you are.  

The garden is a special space that inspires the students and community to pay attention to nature. It provides a gathering space for all people and so many different kinds of wildlife that need this area. Our world is facing a climate crisis and the city does not offer green play spaces that are easily accessible or utilized by many people. The Waters garden offers a place for everyone in the Waters community that they may not otherwise experience. It has taught and will continue to teach many generations how vital our appreciation of the natural world is and inspire these students to take control of the climate crisis and become a more thoughtful and respectful person to our planet and all of the living things in it. As a concerned and active member of the Waters community I respectfully ask how can we risk taking this away from the students? What is the motive behind this change and who does it benefit? 


The La Pratt Family

Why the Waters Garden matters to me
Date: Thu, Jul 7, 2022 at 9:16 AM

Dear Pete,
The  Waters Garden is my "happy place" and has been for literally decades.  I know that it has been built with blood, sweat and tears and exists only because of the vision you and the other gardeners have for it.  It is a wholly unique place that truly honors the past and all who inhabit this community.  It is not supposed to fit into a box with metrics.  How do you measure love, nurturing, or how it feels to be in a tiny little oasis that feels miles away? How do you measure the chance to sit quietly and somehow feel soothed from daily life?
The garden matters to me because it is a symbol of hope for the world- how, by nurturing this one place, so many can learn, live and benefit in ways that we know are important.  It shows that people can come together and create a shared place of meaning, where we can relax.  
This garden matters because the community loves it, and the garden loves us back.  
Anyone who does not understand what this garden "is about" should spend some time there.  
Thank you sincerely for your vision and your love,
Kate Yoshida
Pictures by Kate Yoshida

To Whom It May Concern:
I write, in the highest possible terms, to retain Pete Leki as the head of ecology at Waters Elementary.   It is  doubtless that the program will likely not continue to thrive under hands other than Mr. Leki's.
Any student that has belted out a song on the bus to Sauganash, any parent that has chaperoned an ecology field trip, knows first-hand that Mr. Leki brings unparalleled expertise in education, community-building and passion for all things Nature.
I ask you to ensure that Mr. Leki will continue as the leader of ecology at Waters, so that future environments, whether inside the classroom or outside in the fields, can benefit from his unique knowledge and leadership.
George Cederquist,
Waters Elementary Parent.

Water's garden and ecology program is probably one of the most important and necessary components of the Lincoln Square community. Not only does it provide the opportunity for the students of Waters to learn about plants, gardening and natural stewardship but it also provides the community with a natural sanctuary that gives peace and tranquility. As the world is reminded over and over again by the real and immediate effects of Climate Change it seems vital to teach students the values of natural stewardship. It is also vital to have a space where animals and people and plants can congregate in harmony. I hope to continue to bring my young son to the garden so he can run around and discover all of the different plants and to see how food grows. Please reconsider defunding the ecology program.
Thank you
David Grant a community member

To Whom it May Concern -

I’m writing in support of full funding for the Waters ecology program. I bought a home about a block from Waters in 2019 and was first introduced to the garden then. I spent many summer nights taking walks among the plants, but it wasn’t until Summer 2021 that I became more involved. Since the pandemic struck, I had been a member of Lincoln Square’s mutual aid group. Last spring, we partnered with Mr. Leki and the Waters Garden to grow food for our neighbors who were facing food insecurity. Because of the efforts of the students, Mr. Leki, and others, we were able to make weekly deliveries of fresh greens, tomatoes, cucumbers and more to some of our most vulnerable neighbors. In the process, members of the mutual aid group became garden volunteers—helping to prep beds for student use and to care for the veggies they had planted during the previous semester. As someone who plans to send my child to Waters in a few short years, I am acutely aware of how this kind of interconnectedness builds healthy, thriving communities and, in turn, improves the education of our children. When I purchased my home, I heard repeatedly from friends and neighbors who said things like “What a great location! You’re so lucky to be in the Waters district!” This kind of enthusiasm for a local school does not come without hard work—hard work like the kind Mr. Leki puts in every day for this school and these students. Please consider doing what you can to fully fund Waters’ unique and vital ecology program.

Taylor Fenderbosch

“I’m writing because I was alarmed to hear that the Waters School Ecology Program budget is being cut by 30%. I’m a neighbor of Waters and a community development professional. Although I don’t have children, I moved to the neighborhood twelve years ago because of the school and the gardens. I work in many cities across the country, helping communities to develop sustainably and equitably. I’m often in touch with school districts and principals. I can tell you that the Waters School Ecology Program is a gem and would be the envy of many other cities. It provides the sort of experience that kids will identify later as their favorite part of school, one that supported them academically and personally. For the neighborhood, the gardens function as a community hub, a place that adds immeasurably to quality of life. The numbers of families who benefit from the gardens far exceed those who volunteer or whose kids attend Waters.” 

Ellen S. neighbor

 “For us the ecology program has been the stand-out experience at Waters, and not being able to fully participate in that was one of our great sadnesses during the 18 months of remote learning. However, the remote classes with Mr Leki were a highlight of remote learning, and proved to be the spark for many family outings, as Ewan and I walked the streets of the neighborhood trying to identify the tree species that he had learned about in class, or went to the Waters garden to draw plants and leaves. Upon return to in-person learning Ewan has loved being part of the Mighty Acorns and we are excited for him to continue with that next year. Growing up in the city with so many outdoor spaces covered in concrete or plastic, this early exposure to nature is vital for our kids. Childhood nature exposure is associated with increased self-esteem, and better quality of life as children, along with improved mental health in adulthood.” 

Jeremy A, parent and neighbor

Let me begin by saying I live on Maplewood, just south of Waters and the gardens. My wife, two kids and I have lived here since 2002, and have enjoyed and admired and learned from the gardens, and the many many people caring for them in that time. Our kids do not attend Waters, but we consider the school and gardens a community treasure, a wonder held in common. Our kids played on the playgrounds (several iterations). We shared in the raspberries, we hear the Scouts and neighbours at the fire pit singing songs, we play on the turf field on weekends, we marvel at the raised bed gardens and the variety of growing things, we are in awe at the centuries-old majestic trees in the South gardens. Our beloved cat's ashes are spread, in the tall grasses he loved to wander. 

Just this past weekend, we released nine Painted Lady butterflies into the milkweed. 

I read the occasional newsletters from the Ecology Program, teaching me a little about what grows in the gardens (I knew where to find milkweed when it was time to release our butterflies). I hear a little about the trips to the riverbanks, and what the different grades have as projects during the school year.

We nod when we get the annual letter alerting us to the prescribed burn. We see the burnt patches, and weeks later, nod again at the freshly growing prairie grasses as we read the carefully lettered signs and placards informing us of our native plant allies.

It is not a mystery what goes on at the gardens, nor is it a mystery that armies of caring gardeners and neighbors are responsible for so much of what is possible in those gardens. It is only a mystery why anyone would doubt that these gardens are special, a keynote of the community, and a source of myriad discoveries. It is only a mystery how anyone curious about the gardens would find it difficult to know about the gardens.

Yours in Community

Eric Chandler

“I am so sorry to read this… My heart crumbles. Your ecology program was the thing that made us choose Waters and neighborhood all the way from Venezuela.” Alicia M. parent