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Bringing Nature To The City

Bringing Nature To The CityA Tufts grad is honored for her efforts to create new green space – and a rich teaching environment for an inner-city school.

Boston [11.20.02] For the 5,000 residents of Boston's Chinatown, parks and green spaces are a precious commodity. Covering 42 acres of downtown, the dense urban area features the smallest amount of green space in the city. But today the neighborhood is looking a little bit greener - thanks to a Tufts graduate who created an award-winning garden on the roof of Chinatown's elementary school.

"For most kids in the city, their only encounter with plants is in the grocery market," Tufts graduate Lai Lai Sheung told The Boston Globe. "So, we've created a little green corner in the city for these children to enjoy."

Sheung - who has taught elementary school for the past 20 years -- founded the garden in 1997, in part because of the lack of access to greenery for her students at Josiah Quincy Elementary School.

"Unless they're in some after-school program, these kids don't get to a park at all," Sheung told the Globe. "The schoolyard is all they know."

But that's changing, thanks to her work.

Sheung created a garden on the roof of Quincy Elementary School, where 30 concrete planters now reside -- housing plants including everything from Japanese honeysuckle to European white birch. Her students care for pears, strawberries, and tomatoes as well.

In addition to watering, weeding, and maintaining the garden, Sheung's students are using the new green space to learn about the life cycles of the vegetables and fruits they grow.

"This is not just having a garden, but integrating it with the curriculum," Sheung - who earned a bachelors degree in biology from Tufts - said.

Sheung's lessons also include the animal life that appears in the garden.

"We study the worms that are in our compost bins, how they help to break down compost, and the many bugs that come by," Sheung told the Globe. "Once we had a dragonfly, and the kids got so excited. That's just not something you see in the middle of the city."

The Tufts graduate's unique effort - which the Globe called "Sheung's not-so secret garden" -- is earning community praise.

On November 19, the Boston GreenSpace Alliance awarded Sheung its "Faces of GreenSpace Award," in honor of her work. The organization gives the award each year to those committed to improving the cities parks and open spaces.

Describing Sheung's work, the GreenSpace Alliance wrote, "[Sheung] is a dedicated educator who understands the importance and significance of open space and learning opportunities for children who might not otherwise have that experience."

The Tufts graduate's work is not finished yet. Sheung has already secured funding from the National Gardening Association to build a rooftop greenhouse for the school. That way, she says, Chinatown's Quincy Elementary can be green year-round.


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