Urban Roots Teen Environmental Justice Program

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 social emotional learning, identity development and personal growth.

Urban Roots Teen Environmental Justice Program is a paid, seasonal employment opportunity designed to develop high school students of Al Raby 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 and several life skill enrichment activities. As an Urban Roots docent and environmental activist, candidates will be introduced to: fundamental plant science, conservation education, financial literacy, urban gardening, environmental justice and green space workforce exposure.

Urban Roots provides Al Raby students with a supportive environment in which to embrace the joy of nature.

Program Overview:

Launched: 2016

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

Students Enrolled to Date: 122

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 2022 Cohort: 14 students, 8 male and 6 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
  • 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

Over the summer, participants get the opportunity to spend six weeks covering these topics for a 120-hour, paid internship. In addition, teens conduct an independent project to dive deeper into the topics they find most interesting. For Summer 2022, participant projects included garden advice stations, a cookbook highlighting Conservatory plants, a persuasive brochure, and creative, informative portraits of Conservatory plant favorites.

During the school year, we recruit new participants to work alongside the graduates of the summer program while we continue guiding tours, maintaining gardens, and engaging with our lessons. For Fall 2022, we will be using the framework of Environmental Justice to guide our lessons and work, approaching the topic from a wide range of lenses.

Contact Urban Roots

Please email urbanroots@garfieldpark.org with any questions!

Support Urban Roots

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  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, The Peoples Gas Community Fund, PNC, After School Matters and an anonymous donor.


imc logo      PNC Logo