Rothenberg Rooftop Garden: Taking Learning To New Heights

Take an old school building in Over-The-Rhine circa 1900. Restore it. Add 400 or so children. Build 35 raised beds on the roof. And what do you have? Rothenberg Rooftop Garden (RRG). An amazing outdoor classroom. A living laboratory. A sanctuary from the hustle and bustle of a burgeoning neighborhood. 
Rothenberg Preparatory Academy is a Cincinnati Public School (CPS) grades PreK-6. A true neighborhood school, over 95% of students live within walking distance. A Title 1 school, all students receive free breakfast and lunch. 


Rothenberg Preparatory Academy

Rothenberg Preparatory Academy

The school and the garden are Over-the-Rhine Foundation initiatives. Board members led the effort to save Rothenberg Preparatory Academy from demolition. Since 2008 the Foundation spread the word, telling the Rooftop Garden story, inspiring donors and raising funds to build the Rooftop Garden. Cincinnati Public Schools renovated the historic school building and re-opened to students beginning with the 2013-2014 academic year. The neighborhood is humming, and Rothenberg School, at the corner of Main Street and East Clifton Avenue, anchors the activity. 
We are extremely proud of the combined efforts and visions directed to the planning and development of the Rothenberg Rooftop Garden. This project evolved from a team planning process, totally community-driven from its inception, and it falls within the parameters of CPS's Community Learning Center program. Through the Community Learning Center’s concept, the school acts as a hub for services related to education, health, finance, skills training, the arts and more. It is the center of a vibrant, engaged group of stakeholders, all responding to the needs of the children, their families, and their community. Our Rooftop Garden Program operates at Rothenberg as a guest of the Cincinnati Public Schools. While we have the support and enthusiasm of CPS and Rothenberg Preparatory Academy we are at the school at their invitation and they are not responsible for the Rooftop Garden’s funding, construction, or operations. 
In response to these needs, we have assembled a Garden Guild whose Board members are supporters of this amazing project. They are community residents, parents, CPS Administrators and Facilities Personnel, OTR Foundation Liaison, rooftop garden experts, educators, gardeners, and more. Guild members act as advisory stewards for the garden, its upkeep and maintenance, and the manner in which it will weave into the fabric of the community.



The RRG Project Manager Edwin “Pope” Coleman was an urban activist whose recent focus had been the reclamation, “greening,” and re-opening of historic Rothenberg Preparatory Academy. Operating within the bounds of the Over-the-Rhine Foundation, Pope worked to first save the school from the wrecking ball, and then to enlist Cincinnati Public Schools in embracing his vision for Rothenberg’s learning garden. Since 2008, establishing a roof garden atop Rothenberg School was his goal, and he brought all his knowledge and experience in arts, business, design, and education to bear on this project. Because of his vision and efforts, these inner city children now experience their academic curriculum through the hands-on-lens of garden learning. 


Rothenberg Rooftop Garden (RRG)

Rothenberg Rooftop Garden (RRG)

The RRG program helps to narrow the achievement gaps for the participating inner city children. Besides the integrated lesson plans in math, science, social studies and language arts that align with the state academic standards, the program uses experiential learning opportunities to enrich student’s education, while deepening their understanding of the natural world. The Garden is more than growing things; it's more than the children getting their hands dirty -- it is an innovative model where grade by grade academic standards are met through garden-based lessons. The RRG serves as a community gathering place and a point of pride in this historic inner city neighborhood. Lessons in sustainability and container gardening are taught across the generations and help advance the community as a whole toward better nutrition, more healthy ways of eating, and close-to-the source food production. 


The RRG addresses the following needs particular to the OTR children and the neighborhood we serve: 

  • Need for inner city children to engage with the natural environment first-hand to realize the importance of preservation and conservation, of nutrition, healthy eating, and sustainability.
  • Need to address problems such as childhood obesity and early onset diabetes, by promoting healthy eating habits. 
  • Need for successful and cost-effective intervention among low-income children that will raise their educational outcomes. 
  • Need to develop among our children 21st century skills like teamwork, critical thinking, problem solving, creativity and innovation — these form the foundation of both Student Enterprise and experiential garden learning. 
  • Need to guide children to become good citizens, and provide hands-on, problem solving learning opportunities for them. 
  • Need to enact change in our children, our community and our culture to promote community engagement and individual responsibility to our communities and to the planet; thereby building a positive future for the OTR neighborhood and its residents.


Over the projected 30 year lifetime of the RRG we estimate 16,500 or more inner city children and their families will be educated and served. The Rothenberg Rooftop Garden will educate and influence over 400 Rothenberg School children annually and into the future, as well as their families, teachers, school administrators and Greater Cincinnati community members. Additionally, through activities associated with the Rooftop Garden we can: Facilitate better learning for students; Provide free resources to engage students and improve their educational outcomes; Create a culture of care where all citizens are active members of their community. The RRG experience enriches and supports all classroom core content, including the 3rd grade reading focus. It also contributes to other school preparedness initiatives. 


For volunteer opportunities and to schedule a tour or presentation contact Julie Singer,


Bryna Bass is the Education Program Coordinator at the Rothenberg Rooftop School Garden in Cincinnati Ohio. She earned a BS in Agriculture with a major in Horticulture from The OSU, and later went on to earn her MEd with a certification in Middle School Science. Working with youth, in Over-The-Rhine, in a garden, on a roof—doesn’t get much better than that! Bryna has presented at school garden conferences, local clubs and community organizations. She has provided professional development workshops to teaching staff, and has written articles about the rooftop garden for a variety of publications. She enjoys seeing children take delight in the garden as they learn about the natural world.