Julie Trachman, William Casari, Nelson Núñez-Rodríguez, Flor Henderson, Yoel Rodríguez and Jason Libfeld
How many of you have walked north of the Hostos campus along the Grand Concourse beyond Giovanni’s? You may not be aware that located just a couple of blocks beyond the school and Giovanni’s exists a rather remarkable landscape, which is in marked contrast with all the concrete found in our local South Bronx environs. As you walk north, your eyes meet a rolling hillside covered with lush foliage. Those who have made the trek have experienced the delight of walking through the park on a warm spring afternoon or catching the autumnal change in leaf color. For those who have not, this lovely site, almost a stone’s throw away from Hostos is Franz Sigel Park, named after a German immigrant who served as a Yankee major general during the Civil War and later as a government official in New York City. The site itself also has historical relevance. Besides serving as a part of a pathway for local Indians, one of the park’s high rocky ridges served as a spot for George Washington’s troops to monitor the British troops camped on the Harlem River. A few more steps further north still heading up the Grand Concourse—just beyond the Court House—is another city park. This park is named after the journalist and poet (Alfred) Joyce Kilmer, most famous for his poem “Trees:”
I think that I shall never see A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest Against the sweet earth’s flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day, And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain; Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree. (Kilmer 19)
Joyce Kilmer gave his life for his country—dying in France during World War I. The park that bears his name is very European in its style—quite befitting a park located on the Grand Concourse, which is sometimes referred to as the Champs Elysée of the Bronx (Rosenblum C25). Many park benches are spaced along the carefully landscaped trees, shrubs and manicured lawns. At its south end stands the whimsical Lorelei Fountain, protected by an iron fence and its “moat” of flowers. Also found in the park is a statue dedicated to Louis Heinz, a park com- missioner of the late 1800s, who had the vision to design an inviting public park in this part of the Bronx.
These city parks provide denizens of the South Bronx a refuge–a place to commune in a more natural setting. However, these parks do suffer wear-and-tear from outside forces. Natural elements, such as winter blizzards and summer thunderstorms, wreak havoc on trees every year and contribute to the deterioration of fences and other park structures. Human abuse such as littering and vandalism is evident in many sites in these parks contributing to the need for park maintenance. This is especially worrisome considering that Joyce Kilmer Park underwent a five-million-dollar rehabilitation in the last decade (Montague CY7).
As such, the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation partnered with the City Parks Foundation to create Partnerships for Parks in 1995. Partnerships for Parks sponsors “It’s My Park Day” each fall and spring to encourage local residents to volunteer for clean-up, painting, and flower planting (among other seasonal needs) in neighborhood parks. Professor William Casari began the organization Friends of Franz Sigel and Joyce Kilmer Parks in 2007, working with Partnerships coordinator Maria Luisa Cipriano and Parks Keeper Julio Colon. In the spring the members painted park benches with neighborhood residents.
About a year ago, Professor Casari reached out to the Hostos community to bring others on board–including Profs. Julie Trachman, Nelson Nunez-Rodriguez, Flor Henderson and Yoel Rodriguez of the Natural Sciences Department.
Depending on where the need is the greatest, Partnerships for Parks works with the Parks Department and the volunteer coordinator to determine what tasks will be completed in a specific park. In 2010 Joyce Kilmer Park received a sprucing in the spring and Franz Sigel Park benefited from similar extra-special care in the fall.
The needs of each park are somewhat different given the different landscapes.
In the spring, several faculty and members of the Hostos Environmental Sciences Club picked up trash and helped repaint the iron fence around the Lorelei Statue. The fence had begun to rust since being installed in 1999. In fall 2010, several faculty members were joined by both Mr. Jason Libfeld, Hostos student leadership coordinator, and a large cohort from the Hostos Student Leadership Academy. In addition to picking up litter and painting trash cans green, the volunteers were asked to plant daffodil and tulip bulbs and tend to the street trees growing alongside the park on the Grand Concourse. Many of these trees had been planted recently and were not doing so well—constrained somewhat by concrete-like, sunbaked soil that was lacking in nutritional value and were somewhat impervious to water as a result. Students and professors alike joined together to gently loosen and break up the soil so as not to harm the surface roots, removing stone blocks to expand the soil area and, finally mulching and watering the trees. Volunteers finished caring for one tree pit before moving onto the next while other students watered trees in the park using plastic buckets. A faculty member observed that water was only available at one place in the park and that it became very heavy in the five-gallon buckets being used to water trees, making the group aware of the physical demands of the task. Thanks to the efforts and enthusiasm of the Hostos Student Leadership Academy, the fall 2010 “It’s My Park Day” was the most successful one yet.
BUILDING ON OUR EXPERIENCES
So far this activity has helped our school’s efforts inculcating GenEd skills in a small group of students and has increased their awareness of sustainable ways of living. Students have been given some exposure to environmental issues and how we can act as citizens to improve the world around us. Students were also able to demonstrate leadership as well as teamwork skills, not just alongside their peers but amongst the faculty members that were working side by side with the students. In turn, the faculty members enjoyed this opportunity to serve as mentors to the students.
As many of you are aware, a buzz word that has popped up on campus recently is “service learning”. After a campus presentation entitled “Service Learning Awareness Day seminar” in fall 2010 sponsored by the newly created Hostos Service Learning Committee, faculty are beginning to have a clue as to what service learning means and the value of this instruction style to student education. We even have inklings on how to incorporate service learning into our classroom instruction. As presented and supported by the pedagogical literature (Kuh; Ehrlich; Battistoni, Longo, and Jayanandha), service learning engages students by showing them how classroom studies relate to the real world. Activities that permit students to per- form community service are carefully tied to academic content. After engaging in these activities, students are then asked to reflect on these activities after they have been performed. Ongoing research (Swaner and Brownell; Astin, Vogelsang, Ikeda and Yee; Wolff and Tinney; Simonet) shows that service learning translates into student academic success during that semester and beyond, having an especially strong effect on students who come from educationally underserved backgrounds. Participating in these types of classroom activities increase the odds that students will persist in their academic studies to graduate (Simonet; Wolff and Tinney; Yeh). Additionally, students who have participated in service learning activities while in school are more inclined to become civically engaged adults (Battistoni, Longo, and Jayanandha; Simonet; Astin, Vogelsang, Ikeda and Yee). Finlay and Flanagan note that academically successful young adults are more likely to be civically engaged. They suggest that “…sustained civic involvement such as volunteer service may be a means whereby young adults (especially those who grew up with fewer advantages) are encouraged to continue their education and helped with navigating hurdles to educational progress” (Finlay and Flanagan). By incorporating service learning into the classroom, more of our college students might become life-long learners (an added benefit) as a result of a virtuous cycle.
We invite you to join us in considering ways to incorporate “It’s My Park Day” into your curriculum and some ideas are provided for your convenience in an addendum. One of the park supervisors, Mr. Abismael Rivera, suggested the possibility of Hostos working with the Parks Department to have students participate in activities at other Bronx park sites such as Mill Pond Park, the newly created park along the Harlem River.
Hostos is part of a larger community beyond the campus walls and the participating faculty members feel “It’s My Park Day” helped build community and raise visibility by getting us outside and into the local parks. Volunteers wore Hostos T-shirts during the activity and several local residents and passersby took notice. Furthermore, students in spring 2010 even had a chance to interact with State Senator Jose Serrano and communicate their concerns about local and global environmental issues as well as funding for higher education. Consequently, the public became aware of Hostos Community College as a dedicated community member who cares about the local environment.
This article primarily addresses the service learning aspect and how students helped with park maintenance. However, the parks can serve as a resource in other ways. Faculty can tie these resources into their classroom instruction as follows:
Joyce Kilmer was a famous poet and his poetry can be explored.
Franz Sigel Park has historical relevance. Students can walk through the park and see if they can locate where George Washington’s troops were situated during the Revolutionary War and then discuss the interaction between the American forces and the British forces occupying New York.
A portion of an Indian pathway is located in the park. A discussion can occur about the interaction between the Europeans and the Indians. Students can also consider how Indian populations view nature as com- pared to Europeans.
Franz Sigel and Joyce Kilmer participated as soldiers in two important wars—the Civil War and WWI, respectively. Students can discuss both wars after visiting the parks named after these two soldiers.
Franz Sigel was a German immigrant, who ended up serving his newly adopted country in many capacities besides serving as a major general during the Civil War. Students can discuss the role immigration has played in this country’s history.
Astin, Alexander W., Lori J.Vogelgesang, Elaine K. Ikeda, and Jennifer A.Yee. 2000. “How service learning affects students.” Los Angeles, University of California: Higher Education Research Institute. Web. 22 April 2011.
Battistoni, Richard M., Nicholas V. Longo, and Stephanie R. Jayanandhan. “Acting Locally in a Flat World: Global Citizenship and the Democratic Practice of Service-Learning.” Journal of Higher Education Outreach and Engagement, Vol. 13 (2009): 89-108. Web. 5 Jan. 2011.
Ehrlich, Tom. “Service Learning in Undergraduate Education: Where Is It Going?” The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. 2005. Web. 26 Dec. 2010.
Finlay, Andrea and Connie Flanagan. “Civic Engagement and Educational Progress in Young Adulthood” The Center for Information Research on Civic Learning Engagement (CIRCLE) Fact Sheet. 2009. Web. 3 Jan. 2011.
Kilmer, Joyce. Trees and other poems. New York, NY: George H. Doran Company, 1914. Web. 26 April 2011.
Kuh, George D. High Impact Educational Practices. Washington, D.C.: Association of American Colleges and Universities, 2008. Print.
Montague, Regina. “Neighborhood Report: Highbridge; Kilmer Park Is Prettier, but for How Long.” New York Times. 8 July 2001: CY7. Web. 3 Jan. 2011.
Rosenblum, Constance. “Grand, Wasn’t It.” New York Times. 21 Aug. 2009: C25.
Web. 16 Aug. 2011.
Simonet, D. May 2008. “Service-learning and Academic Success: The Links to Retention Research.” St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Campus Compact. Web. 18 April 2011.
Swaner, Lynn E. and Jayne E. Brownell. 2009. “Outcomes of high impact practices for underserved students: A review of the literature (preliminary draft).” Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities. Web. 19 April 2011.
Wolff, Michele K. and Shannon M. Tinney. 2006. Service learning and college student success. The Academic Exchange Quarterly, Vol. 10(1): 57-61. Web. 22 April 2011.
Yeh, Theresa Ling. Spring 2010. “Service-Learning and Persistence of Low-Income, First-Generation College Students: An Exploratory Study.” Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning. Vol. 16 (2): 50-65. Web. 22 April 2011.