Urban Roots Teen Environmental Justice Program

The Urban Roots Teen Environmental Justice Program engages high-school students across the Westside in a long-term relationship with the Conservatory, where they experience the joy and tranquility of time spent in nature while building knowledge and skills that support social emotional learning, identity development and personal growth. 

The Urban Roots Program is a paid, seasonal employment opportunity designed to develop high school students of Al Raby and neighboring Westside schools into guides for the Garfield Park Conservatory and environmental agents of change. The program helps develop teens into civic leaders and better versions of themselves through identity development, professional development and several life skill enrichment activities. As an Urban Roots docent and environmental activist, candidates will be introduced to a plethora of topics including but not limited to: fundamental plant science, conservation education, financial literacy, urban gardening, herbalism,  environmental justice and green space workforce exposure. 

Urban Roots provides West Side students with a supportive environment and the unique opportunity to embrace the joy of nature in an often bustling urban landscape. 


Program Overview:

Launched: 2016

Partner School: Al Raby High School for Community and Environment (www.alraby.org)

Students Enrolled to Date: 154

Conservatory Visitors Impacted by UR Teens: 5,200+

Program Components:
• 6-week summer intensive (120 hours)
• Fall and Spring after-school programs (42 hours ea.)

Fall 2023 Cohort: 17 students, 10 male and 7 female

In 2022, we restructured our Urban Roots program to include three sessions: Summer, Fall, and Spring. Throughout the year, participants:

  • Learn about the Conservatory, from its history to the plants growing inside
  • Develop interpretation skills that help them communicate plant information to visitors
  • Build critical consciousness through place-based, experiential learning
  • Actively engage with local environmental justice issues
  • Gain exposure to herbalism and various methods of practice 
  • Learn and practice a variety of innovative recipes and cooking techniques 
  • Practice various arts, from natural dyes to collaging to photography
  • Plan and lead tours and orientations to groups of all ages
  • Engage in lessons and labs related to plant biology and sustainability
  • Plan, grow, and maintain their own gardens
  • Take field trips to cultural institutions and natural spaces throughout the Chicago area
  • Gain exposure to STEAM-related green careers
  • Participate in personal development exercises and team building activities

The Fall 2023 cohort projects included microgreen information stations, poster boards highlighting several beneficial and accessible herbs, a “Guess the Herb” tea table game, student crafted salve, student crafted toothpaste, and “Cilantro Cola” made in house by members of the program. All products stemming from Urban Roots research products were given to the public for free in the name of community care. 

During the school year, we recruit new participants to work alongside the graduates and returners of the summer program while we continue guiding tours, maintaining gardens, and engaging with our lessons. In Urban Roots we use an Environmental Justice framework to guide our learning with the belief that  EJ is not linear, and there are a multitude of ways to show our support for our community and environment. 

Contact Urban Roots

Please email urbanroots@garfieldpark.org with any questions!

Support Urban Roots

Want to support? Become a Member to support programs like Urban Roots and general operations at the Conservatory.  Or Click here to make a  designated gift to support and uplift this teen program!

Principal funding for Urban Roots has been provided by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) [MA20-16-0031-16]. Additional funding provided by: Bank of American Foundation, Anonymous Fund of Central Indiana Community Foundation, IMC Chicago Charitable Foundation, JPMorgan Chase Bank, The Peoples Gas Community Fund, PNC, After School Matters and an anonymous donor.


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