Urban Roots

Now in its sixth year, Urban Roots engages Al Raby High School students 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 their academic and personal growth.

Urban Roots trains students to be informed and engaging interpreters of the Conservatory’s global plant collections, whether they are leading in-person field trips for more than 3,000 schoolchildren (as in a typical school year) or producing podcasts and tutorials to share their knowledge of plant biology, ecology, and conservation with virtual audiences (as necessitated by the current public health crisis).

Students join the program as rising sophomores, participating in a paid summer internship at the Conservatory where they begin to build their knowledge of plants and interpretation techniques. Following their summer training, students work as docents in our collections, providing tours and interpretation for the visiting public. Students continue to work in advanced roles during their junior and senior years and all students earn stipends and community service credit and receive ongoing job skills training, academic and post-secondary planning assistance, leadership development, and social-emotional support.

Urban Roots provides Al Raby students with a supportive environment in which to embrace the joy of nature. In turn, their voices and perspectives provide visitors with a richer experience and deeper understanding of the Conservatory and its collections.

Program Overview:

The program begins with a paid, 6-week summer internship followed weekly programming at the Garfield Park Conservatory during the consecutive two school years. The summer internship is an intensive, experiential training in botany and interpretation where teens will do the following:

  • Learn about the Conservatory, from our history to the plants in our collection
  • Develop interpretation skills that help them communicate plant information to visitors
  • Engage in STEM lessons and labs related to plant biology and sustainability
  • Work with Chicago Park District staff to take care of the plants and exhibits
  • Grow and maintain their own gardens
  • Take field trips to cultural institutions throughout the Chicago area
  • Gain exposure to STEM-related careers
  • Create media for the public such as videos about their favorite plants in the Conservatory
  • Participate in personal development exercises and team building activities

During the school year, our teen docents engage with visiting field trip groups, teach them about our collection, and get them excited about plants. Teens also receive additional training on interpretation, plant information, and professional skills. They earn stipends and community service credit for their work.

This program supports the professional and personal development of participating teens, while also providing links and support for students’ academic work during the school year. In return, our teen docents help the Conservatory connect more deeply with more students across Chicago.

Summer 2021!

After more than a year of running Urban Roots remotely due to the coronavirus pandemic, we are excited to welcome teens back to the Conservatory for the 2021 summer program!

The 7-week program will adhere to all public health guidelines related to Covid-19 and will be conducted in an outdoor classroom to avoid indoor gathering and to get teens — who have spent months indoors and online for remote learning — outside and connected with nature.

Visitors can expect to see our veteran third-year docents working in the Giving Garden, where they will be growing fresh organic produce to donate to local community organizations and food banks. They will also be providing public interpretation (from a safe, socially distanced position!) of a special exhibit in the Conservatory’s outdoor Artist’s Garden.

Please email urbanroots@garfieldpark.org with any questions!


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

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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, After School Matters and an anonymous donor.