THE BRONX (PIX11) -- It’s not just the quirky bow tie made out of scrabble board that distinguishes Stephen Ritz at Community School 55 in the South Bronx.
It’s the abundance of resources the veteran educator brings to the students who mostly come from the surrounding housing projects. “I like to say I’m a people’s farmer, and the kids are my seeds, harvesting hope, and cultivating minds,” said Ritz. “We are using the art of growing vegetables to transform school culture, and most importantly school performance.”
The 52-year-old teacher has helped students across the borough build more than 100 indoor and outdoor gardens at their schools in poverty stricken neighborhoods. Through his so-called Green Bronx Machine project, which relies on donations, Ritz is volunteering his time to convert an old library room in C.S. 55, into a state of the art National Health and Wellness Center.
“There are not many food options in the community. Steve Ritz is really changing the lifestyle of our children,” said C.S. 55 principal Luis Torres.
Torres is not surprised Ritz has been named one of ten finalists for the Global Teacher Prize. It’s an award sponsored by the non-profit Varkey Foundation, which is dedicated to enhancing the quality of education worldwide.
More than 5,000 teachers were nominated for the $1 million prize. The winner will be announced on March 15.
“I’m humbled, flattered, and it’s really a testament to our entire community, to my kids, to my colleagues, principal Torres, and all of us working to grow something greater,” said Ritz.
His goal is to send 100 students home with two bags of groceries each, every week, beginning in the fall.