By Abby Gross

Until recenltly, PS 202 wasn’t much to look at. In back, the East New York, Brooklyn elementary school overlooks bustling Linden Boulevard. A prominent landfill stands only a few blocks away, and the school, on a street of factories, “smelled like the dump,” said Jessica D’Amato, a second grade teacher at PS 202.

Among the weeds and tires, D’Amato imagined something better. So in 2003 she and her colleagues cleared trash from the schoolyard, added grass and planted tulips, while students nurtured caterpillar cocoons indoors. Trees were planted, and that spring, flowers grew in front of PS 202. Students were able to bring their young butterflies outside and release them into the new garden.

A year later, students learned how to weed, loosen dirt, dig holes and plant a variety of bulbs and seeds. “Don’t hurt worms in their own house!” they often reminded each other.

In cities, gardens not only encourage teamwork, but they also help cool air and reduce heat. A recent NASA study recommended planting “urban forests” in New York City to ward off hot urban summers. This year, ten flowering trees will be added to the now grassy and colorful area around PS 202’s garden. “As the children grow and move on,” said D’Amato, “their garden will always be here.”