Most rooftops, especially in an urban setting, are forgotten, unused space. But high atop the Rothenberg Preparatory Academy in OTR, there’s a lush garden that not only feeds its students, but it teaches them to garden, too.
Rothenberg Rooftop School Garden is a non profit organization on the roof of the historic Rothenberg Preparatory Academy, which is a Cincinnati Public Elementary School. “It provides hands-on garden based lessons and activities to the children and families of Rothenberg Preparatory Academy, and the greater community,” Bryna Bass, Garden Education Coordinator, says. “As an enrichment program, we support the teaching staff by facilitating lessons that meet academic standards across the curriculum, grades preK-6.”
The garden is about to enter its fifth year serving the students at Rothenberg. “Our first year, 2013, the actual outdoor classroom wasn’t completely constructed and we worked with teachers and students, providing garden-themed academic enrichment in the classrooms,” Bass says. “In 2014, we were able to bring everyone onto the roof and into the garden.”
The inspiration for the garden was “championed” by a local activist, Edwin “Pope” Coleman of the Over The Rhine Foundation. “He was inspired by Granny’s Garden in Loveland. His vision was for the children of OTR to have a garden at their neighborhood school,” Bass says. “The Over The Rhine Foundation took on the project and started raising the monies to make it happen. Rose Seeger of Green City Resources and Frank Russell of UC Community Design Center created the design for the outdoor classroom and garden. Sadly, we had to say our ‘goodbyes’ to Pope, who died July 4, 2017.”
There are so many benefits from having a garden. Rothenberg is an urban school that’s in a neighborhood that is growing and developing quickly, and there isn’t much green space to for the kids to explore nature. “The rooftop garden is a safe space where the kiddos can develop a sense of wonder as they watch a seed grow into a plant, chase a butterfly from flower to flower, and make deep observations of the natural world,” she says. “Flowers and edible plants are grown in the garden. Children take in the beauty of a flower, develop a greater understanding of why that flower is an important part of an ecosystem, and eat a strawberry, all during one class session. We like to think of the garden as a classroom-not all classrooms have four walls. We also have a Reading Garden-a covered sitting area surrounded by flower pots-where people can comfortably sit, reflect and read.”
There is so much that goes into taking care of the garden, such as 35 raised beds and 25 oversized planters that cover approximately 3000 square feet on the roof. “The garden is managed by Julie Singer, but the children also spend a great deal of time in the garden planting, maintaining, and harvesting—performing a variety of duties that allow them to have ownership of the space,” Bass says. “Watering is done by hand. We incorporate integrated pest management techniques, use organic fertilizers, and pull the weeds by hand.”
This garden and Rothenberg Preparatory Academy help the community. “A strong school is good for the neighborhood and the garden helps to make RPA a strong school. The greater community is invited into the garden (school) through volunteer opportunities and programs. It is a source of pride, not only for the school but for the community.”
Bass’ favorite part of working on the garden is being with the children. “Being able to introduce children to the wonders of the garden is by far the most exciting thing for me,” she says. “Also, I get to work on a roof, in a garden, with kiddos. It’s awesome!”
The Rothenberg Rooftop School Garden is located at 241 E Clifton Ave in Cincinnati. To learn more about them, follow along on Facebook or contact Bass at firstname.lastname@example.org. “You can come and tour the space. We are always looking for volunteers. We also present to groups,” Bass says.