Comer Education Campus' holistic approach fosters care for the environment and for building a world where all communities can thrive. The campus is home to a rigorous high school science program as well as a robust urban agriculture department. A working farm and rooftop garden provide STEM learning experiences and employment opportunities while nourishing the community with fresh produce and green space. 

Comer scientists have already found innovative ways to connect with our youth through visits to the campus, virtual sessions, participating in Career Day, and offering opportunities for youth to explore beyond the city of Chicago. Comer youth have traveled to Yellowstone National Park and have joined field expeditions to Mongolia and China.

The way forward is to continue to connect scientists, climate leaders, and young people. We welcome your ideas and we invite you to get involved. 

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Attaining Scientific Literacy; Preparing for the Challenges of the Future

Gary Comer College Prep's Environmental Science Program

Gary Comer College Prep scholars work hard to develop the skills they need to pursue STEM-related majors after high school. They also work to attain the scientific literacy needed to navigate the global challenges facing them as they grow into adulthood. Environmental Science continues to be the introductory Science high school course. We continue to learn about a wide variety of environmental issues but are retooling the curriculum to be more culturally responsive. Students perform better and are more invested when the material they are working with reflects them. This year our course is much more human-centered with particular regard to the population and environment of Chicago. We begin by studying populations and demographics before moving into a study of resources and consumption. During our resources and consumption unit, scholars learn how their actions affect the environment through studying cell phones through the stages of manufacturing to the point of disposal. We build on our understanding of consumption by tracking the effects of fast fashion. Once students have a solid understanding of consumption, they begin a deep investigation into climate change. This year we are working with Dr. Alice Doughty to create highly interactive and student-centered activities. Students will also conduct a multi-week observational study into the air quality around the school using air quality sensors purchased with funds from the Toshiba America Foundation. We will spend the rest of the year connecting issues related to water, agriculture, and ecology to the concept of human-driven climate change. Working with the Urban Agriculture Department at the Gary Comer Youth Center will allow our students the chance to be outdoors as they solve problems related to food sustainability. Our goal is for students to feel like they belong in scientific spaces. We have many ideas for upcoming projects, we invite anyone to share their expertise with our brilliant young people.  

Jessica Stevens, Gary Comer College Prep Environmental Science Teacher

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Post Doc Guleed Ali visited Ms. Stevens' 9th grade environmental science class.
September at the farm.

Urban Agriculture at Gary Comer Youth Center

The urban ag program began with a rooftop garden and has since grown to include a 1.75-acre farm that engages youth from middle school through young adulthood. Since 2006, young people have grown and harvested more than 100,000 pounds of produce, distributed fresh vegetables within the community and throughout the city. 

The urban ag program continued to employ young people throughout the pandemic and donated more than 10,000 pounds of fresh food to the community. The GCYC culinary team incorporated the produce into free meals provided to adults and youth throughout the pandemic. 

The young people organized and led a 3-day convening, Spring Forward, to explore green careers, environmental justice, and environmental literacy. More than 60 speakers from around the country shared their experiences to develop the next generation of climate leaders.

There was also a lot of buzz about bees on campus. The GCYC apiary and honey production grew from 4 hives in 2019 to 15 hives today. The 18- to 22-year-old  Comer Crops interns earned beekeeping certificates and now maintain the hives, which are on track to produce 500 pounds of honey this year.

While growing food for the community, young people are experiencing first-hand the impacts of the climate crisis. Abnormally high temperatures, drought conditions, combined with intensive storms causing wind damage, fallen trees,  flooding, and power outages were some of the impacts on the farm. 

In the works for summer 2022: we are developing a proposal with Aaron Putnam for a potential trip for CEC youth to travel to the University of Maine and Acadia National Park to explore the Maine ecosystem and post-secondary opportunities. 

We welcome opportunities to work with you to strengthen pathways from high school to climate science careers. 

-Marji Hess, Urban Agriculture Director, Gary Comer Youth Center

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Learn how Comer Education Campus' holistic approach sparks interest in science, fosters care for the environment and for building a world where all communities can thrive.