The Green Institute at Furr High School is only two years old, but that program is already getting national attention for its efforts.
In March, a group of students from there delivered a presentation at the National Environmental Justice Conference and Training Program in Washington, D.C. And this week, students and educators will travel to the nation’s capital again to be honored alongside Forest Service representatives for the Abraham Lincoln Honors Award for Diversity, Inclusion, and Outreach from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Principal Bertie Simmons will accompany students and educators in support of their recognition for this prestigious award.
In previous years, Lincoln Awards were reserved for Forest Service employees who had demonstrated an exemplary commitment to the department’s mission, but this year, the list of honorees has been expanded to include community partners.
“There has been huge involvement — not just at Furr, but by many HISD students — in establishing food forest corridors in an urban food desert, and creating awareness of the importance of pollinators to our world’s food supply,” said Forest Service Partnership, Diversity, and Inclusion Specialist Tamberly Conway.
Furr High School’s Green Institute serves as the hub of HISD’s Green Ambassadors program and the Houston East End Greenbelt, which is housed on campus and run jointly by Furr teachers, students and the Forest Service partner, Friends of the National Forests & Grasslands in Texas—Latino Legacy. The program is under the leadership of Career and Technical Education agriculture teachers Juan Elizondo and David Salazar, as a result of grant from the USFS-National Urban and Community and Forestry Advisory Council.
“Green Ambassadors are students who go out to our elementary and middle schools to share information on how to take care of the environment,” explained Dr. Simmons. “They are also working with the Houston Parks and Recreation Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reclaim and restore Clinton Park.”
Participating students have already planted more than 100 fruit trees at schools and other public spaces, and they are hoping to have more than 200 planted by the end of January. The program is also helping to support the Urban Refuge Partnership. Through numerous partners and collaborators, the Houston Greenbelt is becoming a sustainable model that others are interested in replicating nationwide.
“This is not about just gardens and food,” said Furr HS teacher Juan Elizondo. “It’s about restoring communities through nature, planting trees and other beneficial plants which provide resources to the community and ecological benefits to everyone. We’re connecting students to agencies and natural resource organizations in which the students may one day find a career in which they have a passion.”