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Growing Leaders and Gardens at Wakefield High School

Riedel's Advanced Studies Horticulture students maintain their own garden beds at the high school.

Riedel’s Advanced Studies Horticulture students maintain their own garden beds at the high school.

There’s so much more than food growing at the gardens at Wakefield High School in Raleigh. Researchers, mentors, entrepreneurs, business managers and community champions are all growing under the direction of Career and Technical Education teacher Jodi Riedel.

Riedel’s Introduction to Horticulture students have a wide range of hands-on learning experiences thanks to the gardens they maintain at school, and Riedel said, “They’re getting their hands dirty. They’re going outside every day and learning. Most of these kids don’t spend any time outside.”

In early November, students were working with test garden plots (experimenting with trials on mulching, thinning out plants and observing the plants), cultivating poinsettias in the greenhouse, and working with students at nearby Wakefield Elementary School on food science experiments.

wakefield-es-garden-pic

The garden at Wakefield Elementary School, where Wakefield High School students have teamed up to help their elementary school peers grow an edible garden.

For Riedel, engaging the community is all part of the learning for students. For example, Horticulture students planted 1,100 poinsettias in August, and two students have been cultivating them as they prepare for the school’s poinsettia sale later this month.

The twin seniors, Bailey and Allison Parrish, will each earn .50 per plant sold for their work. Because the greenhouse produces year-round, after the poinsettia sale, students will start seeds and transplant plugs that will be used for the school’s Spring Plant Sale April 20-24.

“We sell about $16,000 worth of plants during this event, and those funds go right back into the gardens and support for students who grow them, such as scholarships for horticulture camp and college, and salary for those who work the farmers’ market stand on Tuesday and Thursday mornings in the summer from  7:30-11:45 am,” Riedel said. The students are learning valuable business skills, earning money, and she said, “They are learning that growing food can be a career for them.”

“It’s a lot of pressure cultivating and managing a crop that has to be sold to the public,” said Bailey Parrish. At least if it doesn’t all turn out, I will learn a lot from my failures and can try again in the future.”

Teens Mentoring Younger Peers

The Horticulture students also are learning as they mentor Garden Ambassadors at nearby Wakefield Elementary School (WES). Last year, the high schoolers worked with their younger counterparts at the elementary school to create a 70’ x 70’ vegetable garden area, including a demonstration garden where the high schoolers can teach the fifth graders, and a garden bed for each grade at WES.

“Jodi and I worked together on the planning, but her expertise made the project morph from ordinary to extraordinary,” said Pam Welker, Science Lab Coordinator at WES. “We set up a Garden Advisory Board (aka Garden Ambassadors), selecting two or three students per grade level to aid us in planning and executing garden plans last year.”

plants

Wakefield High School Introduction to Horticulture students have cultivated these plants.

Welker said the garden plans represent content related to grade-level learning in science, math and social studies. “We have planted fruit trees and berry bushes that we hope will be a resource (eventually) for students who want a healthy snack during the school day. The garden is not only a beautification initiative, it’s pragmatic as well,” Welker said. “Our teachers are able to use the grade-level garden beds to teach ecosystems, plant growth & development, North Carolina’s native plants, life cycle studies (butterfly) and other areas of common core science.”

Both Riedel and Welker agree that having the students working together has been a great experience for all of them. “The teamwork with the high school was fun and important because they taught me about soils and rocks. The high school students were a guide,” said fifth grader Anderson Cole. “The gardens give kids an opportunity to make learning fun. Sometimes it’s not clear why we learn what we learn, but being part of the garden made things clear. It was a learning experience for the future, for when we have our own gardens or for the type of work we might choose to do.”

Cole isn’t the only student who feels that way. Third grader Ava Stenger’s favorite part of the garden work was planting and designing. “That isn’t a normal thing to do at school. I could use art and science at the same time doing the same project. Also, having a garden at school lets me see in person how plants grow and learn about the texture of leaves and stems,” she said. “It’s not the same when you use technology to look online at plants. My class used the garden to look at and feel a flower bush. Then we wrote about the attributes of the bush in a paragraph. That was way more fun than looking up details online.”

The high school mentors agree. “I definitely felt a sense of accomplishment with the WES garden when we came together with the children and created a paper plan. Seeing it down on paper, then being constructed and finally growing was an awesome experience. I loved walking through the garden and observing and really learning from the plants and the process,” Parrish said.

Future Farmers of America

Riedel is also the club sponsor for Future Farmers of America (FFA) at Wakefield High School. FFA members, who will host an educational booth at AHA’s Dig In! on March 4, 2017, about how to garden with straw bales, meet regularly after school and spend their time on a variety of community-based activities while honing their personal leadership skills. For example, last school year they were involved with the Backpack Buddies program at Wakefield Elementary School while there was grant funding for that.

Learn more about Riedel’s work with students at her website and see her Farm to Fork Curriculum in progress.

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