The High Line Green Corps program saw its first graduation on Saturday, June 28, with proud mothers and siblings in attendance. “How can we be better neighbors?” was the thoughtful question leading to the creation of the High Line’s Green Corps program—an intensive six-month paid program for local teens that increases understanding of environmental science and green jobs, while also strengthening the relationship between the High Line and its young community members. This year’s graduating class was especially passionate and lively—a testament to the program’s success.
The graduates shared highlights of the program in between eating a delicious spread of rice and beans and turkey empanadas cooked by the teens. Graduate Beatrice Ramos—with her young sister listening—spoke about the new sense of responsibility the program instilled in her. “I recycle now and know the benefits of keeping my city clean,” she said. Echoing her sentiment, graduate Raquel Rosado shared, “I’ve learned to love plants. Now it’s my job to care for them.”
The program’s instructors, Gahl Shottan and Jordan Aponte, aim to do precisely that—encourage young teens to see themselves as environmental stewards of the city, whether they are on the High Line or in any other green space. The program focuses on: green infrastructure, urban horticulture, and agricultural sustainability- including the relationship between food and health. Students learn through field trips, presentations with guest speakers, and team hands-on projects. This year's Green Corps weeded the garden at a local elementary school, P.S. 33, planted bulbs in nearby tree pits, and cut back over a quarter-mile of plantings as part of the High Line’s annual Spring Cutback .
Green Corps began last year  as a week-long alternative spring break, through generous support from the Nathan Cummings Foundation. Over 60 applicants, many from local NYCHA complexes, applied for the ten spots in this pilot week. Friends of the High Line realized there was a need for this kind of programming. One graduate from last year, Carla Hernandez , went on to enter the Green City Force's Clean Energy Corps . Through support from the Ford Foundation and the Palette Fund, the breadth and scope of this year's program has expanded.
The impact of the program goes beyond the participants themselves. Family members also absorb lessons when students come home excited to study their horticultural vocabulary, show their newly planted seeds, and share healthy snacks they’ve made. One graduate, Mary Dillard, laughed with her mother and reminisced about the memory of the first seedling she took home to care for and watch blossom. She also mentioned that she has made yogurt parfait with her family many times since first having it at Green Corps. It is this kind of bonding over nature and its food that Green Corps encourages.
Gahl, while presenting the graduates with their certificates, reflected on the program’s future: “Green Corps is a stepping stone for young people interested in exploring green jobs. We hope to help graduates further their careers by creating a leadership program for second year students while expanding the time they spend gardening on the park and in the community.” Three of the graduates will also join Friends of the High Line staff this summer as paid horticulture interns, through support from The Lucius and Eva Eastman Fund. They will work three days a week with High Line gardeners, tending the park and gardens in the surrounding neighborhoods.
Whatever this year's Green Corps graduates go on to do, they are certain to remain part of the High Line community. Former Green Corps teens have become High Line Rangers and Merchandise Associates . They’ve returned for events like Earth Day , and even produced their own movie series . Some plan to come this Thursday, July 18, for our first High Line Teen Night , also produced by local teens.
Green Corps continues to evolve, and the success of it is largely connected to the enthusiasm and commitment of its participants. If future graduates are anything like this year’s group, the program has a brilliant future.