Bringing the outdoors…urban! Students begin their school beautification project at East

 Over the past month there has been so much going on at East High School! The February break trips to the RACE exhibit, Nazareth College, the University of Rochester and the University at Buffalo were successful and served to spark a serious interest in college for our students. While spring break is coming up in just a few weeks, bringing with it another series of college excursions, the promise of warmer weather has been shifting my attention to a major project East Takes Action will be working on from now until the end of the school year; school beautification.  

     In November, I presented the members of East Takes Action with information about the Youth as Resources grant from the Monroe County Youth Bureau. The purpose of this grant was to fund service learning projects created by youth in Rochester and the surrounding areas. After having done some yard work with the North Winton Village Association, the students were inspired to plan a service learning project in which they would create their very own garden at East High School. In December, East Takes Action was awarded $1,000 from Youth as Resources to aid in the completion of this gardening project. With great enthusiasm, the students and members of the North Winton Village Association set right to work making detailed plans for what needed to be done in order to create a successful final product. Yet amidst all of the excitement about this new endeavor, there was a slight tone of confusion from the student volunteers. It was becoming apparent that the majority of them had little to no knowledge of the processes involved in planting a garden.     
     For the first 18 years of my life, I lived in the foothills of the Adirondack mountains, a.k.a “The Great Outdoors.” From a young age, I loved doing anything and everything outside (including creating my very first vegetable garden with my mom at just three years old). I always understood that people in urban areas did not have access to the amount of green space that I did growing up. However, the magnitude of this difference did not truly sink in until I began my work at East. Unfortunately, many of the neighborhoods these youth come from either do not have a space where they can go outside to play, or if there is a space the questionable safety in the surrounding area will leave it abandoned. Such factors limit the opportunities these youth have to spend an adequate amount of time outside and certainly to engage in gardening. Therefore, the fact that the students in East Takes Action brought with them such a limited knowledge of this outdoor activity was to be expected. 

     In the beginning, the primary goal I had for the students involved in the gardening project was simply to improve the appearance of their school. However, now that I understand more about their neighborhoods and their experience with the “The Great Outdoors” I truly hope that this project inspires them to engage in beautification efforts elsewhere. Perhaps they will want to create a community vegetable garden in their neighborhood, or even clean up an underused playground to make it more inviting. Thus, the adults involved in this project with East Takes Action are placing a strong focus on education and reflection in order to inspire life-long gardeners A gardening word wall has been erected in the school featuring relevant terminology and students have been encouraged to blog about their experiences on the East Takes Action website. I am so excited to see what these students will be able to accomplish and how much they will learn in the next few months! 

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