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Sowing city seeds.

In his deep teacher's voice, Richard Taylor tells his students to get out their diaries and write down what they did today. "You planted seeds, you learned how to space them ..." he starts.

Notebooks open, and the room becomes quiet. Today is payday for these 11- to 14-year-olds, and if they act up, they know their pay will be docked.

"Although $25 a week doesn't seem like much, it's the first time these kids have ever had any real money," says Taylor, a horticulture teacher at Phelps Career School in Washington, DC. A Phelps instructor for the past 27 years, Taylor is the head horticulturist for the fledgling Washington, DC, Youth Tree Corps. This pilot program, sponsored by the nonprofit group Trees for the City, helps inner-city youth in grades five to 12 from seven schools in Washington, DC, become involved in forestry, landscape, and environmental sdence.

Taylor sees a lot of talent in the children but says many of the students from one-parent or low-income families don't have any interest in education. In turn, he's trying to spark an interest by introducing them to new avenues of employment in fields that aren't so crowded and break the stereotype that equates agricultural work with farming or cheap labor.

The greenhouse at Phelps is home base, and that's where the students learn to grow all types of plants, from cabbage to trees. During the planting season, they meet during the week and on Saturdays to plant seedlings that they have grown or that have been donated.

The school grounds have been transformed into an outdoor laboratory--a vision Taylor had 20 years ago. About 100 trees now mark a small hillside that separates the campus from the housing project behind it. The students also police a nearby park and watch as their teacher points out the thoughtless way people have left the area.

"We are trying to make this a thing of love, a need-type thing," says Taylor, who makes sure the students appreciate the tree's environmental and aesthetic benefits.

The youth corps started last spring and continued with a summer program, adding a small stipend for each student. During the school year, about 80 children come to Phelps for two hours a day, five days a week. Students attending the summer school have class until noon, then get a free lunch. Three days a week, the children go on field trips to different attractions like the Smithsonian Institution's botanical gardens. A/though located in Washington, Taylor says, the gardens might as well be in another city; many of the students had never seen that part of town's clean, tourist-teeming streets and manicured grounds.

The public school system gave Taylor $1000 to help pay for the trips, supplies, and equipment. Trees for the City pays the students' wages with funding from the U.S. Forest Service and The Morris and Gwendolyn Carritz Foundation.

Before a child is admitted to the program, a parent or guardian must sign a letter of support; once there are five students from a school, a teacher or aid from that school must join them.

"We're in the business of molding," Taylor says. "We aren't baby-sitters."

The trees that fringe the Phelps campus represent a growing success story-- attained by children who came to the Washington, DC., Youth Tree Corps thinking vegetables originated at the Safeway or A&P supermarkets. That success story is due to the vision and know-how of Taylor, the man who showed those students the real beginnings of vegetables and other plants. There still are setbacks--three dogwoods were recently stolen from behind the school, and trees have been vandalized throughout the grounds-but these mishaps are disheartening not defeating. At 63, Taylor says he's just as enthusiastic about coming to work now as when he was a young man.
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Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Earthkeepers; profile on Richard Taylor
Author:Taylor, Tricia
Publication:American Forests
Date:Sep 1, 1992
Previous Article:Inside the Environmental Movement: Meeting the Leadership Challenge.
Next Article:What's in a name?

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