by Roshana Nabi

For several years the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) has been training and partnering with educators in New York City to bring youth-led service learning into classrooms through Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots, JGI’s global environmental and humanitarian youth program. The Roots & Shoots innovative professional development model, service learning tools, and emphasis on hands-on, high impact service creates a transformative experience for both educators and their students. We are excited to share that the 2013-2014 Roots & Shoots service learning campaigns of over 300 New York City students are underway!  

I work with Roots & Shoots in New York City and directly support educators in their classrooms. These educators are passionate and dedicated to empowering their students to take what they are learning in their textbooks and get outside of the four walls of their school. They go together into the community to apply what they are learning and have the opportunity to see themselves as agents of change. Students are using the tools offered through Roots & Shoots service learning to deepen what they are experiencing as part of their traditional education to investigate and plan service learning campaigns around issues including:

●     Healthy eating

●     Urban farming

●     Understanding the impacts of popular products on the environment and animal habitats

●     The school to prison pipeline

●     Recycling

●     Homelessness

●     Systems to harvest rainwater

●     Cleaning up coastal waters

While all of the students and educators are exposed to the same Roots & Shoots methodology, their individual classroom experiences are all quite different. Some educators are new to the program and are realizing that they are able to incorporate the service learning into their classrooms. Supporting them through the initial doubt they experienced when they asked, “How do I begin?!,” and, “What could I possibly do?” has been very rewarding.


One dedicated educator from Williamsburg Preparatory High School who is leading a social action afterschool club wrote:

“My experience with Roots & Shoots so far has been a true learning experience! Figuring out how to cultivate all of the students’ interests together into one project has been interesting. We have learned we can accommodate all of the things they are passionate about over the span of the year. The students have been incredibly proactive — from researching homelessness to creating and putting up fliers, to making announcements to the rest of the school  —  the students are putting their best foot forward. I feel incredibly proud of my group already and can't wait to see all they will accomplish in the coming months!”

Other educators are returning to the program. One educator turned her previous year’s project into a class on urban farming and has attracted external funding and the attention of local politicians.

“Roots & Shoots has been instrumental in getting our school garden project off the ground.  With the grant money received, the Leaders for Sustainability club was able to create a container garden of tomatoes, broccoli, peppers, collard greens, parsley, lemon balm, basil and thyme along with several varieties of flowers. Our Principal, Mike Shadrick, was so impressed with the student interest in gardening that he added urban farming as an elective. Now, we have over 55 students benefiting from the program. Roots & Shoots connected us to New York Sun Works with whom we are collaborating on a hydroponic system as well as a community outreach project. This semester, the students will use the grant money provided by Roots & Shoots to educate the community about alternatives to our current food system.”

Whether the projects are large or small, just starting or growing in complexity, in a classroom setting or after-school program, each educator is using his or her talents to help their students realize their potential to make a difference in their community — the impact of which is immeasurable.

Great things are happening in education in New York City! Sign up here to be notified when future opportunities to be involved in Roots & Shoots service learning become available!