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Bed-Stuy Trees Continue to Grow Strong

On Memorial Day Saturday, May 26, P.S. 5/The Ronald E. McNair School showcased its unique on-going youth empowerment programs to neighborhood leaders and residents for an intergenerational event that attracted some 200 people over the course of six hours.

The activities included tours of the student-developed and run bookstore; presentations by budding P.S. 5 entrepreneur visionaries; plantings along the school’s exterior perimeters and inside the building’s inner circular court – perhaps the only garden sanctuary of its kind in the District; and a special honors presentation and dedication to a community leader.

While the purpose of PS 5’s gardening program is to encourage student involvement with nature, it’s apparent Principal Lena Gates is helping students and their parents make the connection between what can be described as “the inner gardener spirit” and the force of self-empowerment, motivation and development.

The bookstore project has come as a result of the school’s Entrepreneurship Program. The youngsters are learning, at an early age, financial literacy and the importance of staying in the black. Among the supporters of this program are at least two local banks, Greenlight Books and the NYC Public Library!

On that day, students Serenity Dixon, Charmaine Jones, and Zachary Abdul-Zahir were walking testimonies of the program’s success: Dixon has started her own business making slime, Jones sells gently used and transformed-to-nearly-new clothing online; Abdul-Zahir has created his own strawberry company.


The color of the future is green on many levels, affirms Ms. Gates, who is committed to encouraging student involvement with nature at every chance she gets. Saturday was no exception. With the help of several school staff, the students planted beautiful rose bushes and other plants, donated by The Home Depot. Their faces lit up with excitement as they got down into the soil … not just for play, but for a purpose.

First grader Alvin joyously exclaimed to Our Time Press, “Today was awesome! I really liked helping others.” Destiny, 9, mentioned that the school has inspired her “interest” in nature, so much so that she has been helping with the community garden located across Hancock Street from the school.

For some youngsters, this was a first-time endeavor. “I was really excited about digging holes!” said Dimitri, 10, whose excitement was shared by classmate, Jada, 9.

Jayden, 8, said that gardening is something everyone should do. “It builds strength,” he told us.

Community leader Al Vann, third from left, joins principal Lena Gate,
members of the Lions Club and PS 81 family at the Spring beautification
project. David Greaves accepted an award for Our Time Press and Magnolia
Tree Earth Center of Bedford Stuyvesant. Photo: Elizabeth Green

A highlight of the day was the visit of the honorable Al Vann, a former educator, and champion for Central Brooklyn whose work in politics and civil rights throughout Kings County and beyond cleared a way for many who are now leaders in the community. His presence and the entire day were testaments to the latest take on an old metaphorical adage, Brooklyn grows big trees.

In addition to the community day project, the school recognized Our Time Press and the Magnolia Tree Earth Center of Bedford Stuyvesant with a plaque. Both entities have been partnering with Brooklyn elementary and middle schools since April to ensure student involvement across the board in community stability and urban ecology. Mr. Greaves is publisher of Our Time Press and chair of the Center.


Principal Lena Gates speaks with News 12 about the student bookstore.

Mr. Vann, who commented on the importance of the work of Mr. Greaves and Ms. Gates, who like him, are native-born to Bedford-Stuyvesant, was especially pleased with the positive energy in all he saw and experienced at P.S. 5 that day.

“As soon as I stepped through the doors of this school, I thought to myself, ‘Something good is happening here at Dr. Ronald E. McNair School. Something very good.’ ”

–from the notes of Yaasantewa Mensah


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