|Clay-Chalkville HS Jr. Master Gardeners Give Their School a Facelift|
The students in Kathryn Manley’s special needs class at Clay-Chalkville High School will tell you there is something special about their teacher and her staff. Together, in just two years, this class has transformed a barren area of their school grounds into both a school garden with several raised beds, container pot gardens, a strawberry patch, a vertical grow wall, a garden shed and a compost bin. But this class did not stop there. When their principal asked this class, as part of their PLANT PROJECT® and Junior Master Gardener (JMG) curricula, to also revitalize and beautify the front entrance of the school, the class and their teacher took on the challenge, giving the front of the school an environmentally-friendly facelift that will leave a lasting legacy.
This May, as the school year ended, every member of the class became a certified Junior Master Gardner, and I had the privilege of handing out their certificates.
Clay-Chalkville High School is one of six schools enrolled in the PLANT PROJECT® program. This is a therapeutic horticultural program using planting, gardening and organic farming techniques alongside nationally-recognized curricula like the JMG series and a one-on-one mentorship with adults over the age of 65, most of whom live in retirement facilities or who visit senior citizens’ centers. The class at Clay-Chalkville High School is partnered with the retirement facility, Elm Croft of Grayson Valley. The special needs class is enrolled in the FOCUS (Finding Our Use, Conservation and Sustainability) component of the program, which concentrates on honing vocational and life skills. Students not only learn about propagating, planting and harvesting the produce from their garden area, but also how to prepare the fruits and vegetables for consumption; how to harvest and store seeds for future use; how to budget expenses and revenues to sustain the garden area; how to purchase seeds, plants, supplies and equipment; and basic work skills.
Along with working with the JMG program, the classroom is also a chartered 4-H club. Being a part of a club, like 4-H, allows these students to participate in an activity similar to the other students at the school. Manley stated the students all get excited when it is their turn to be president or one of the other officers. She also mentioned the importance of these students being able to belong to something like a club.
"I am going to miss that young lady," one mentor said of a student who is graduating from school this year, with tears in her eyes. "She changed my whole life. She is going to be fine in the world, just fine. She is a bright young woman, and she brings happiness wherever she goes."
"My people love these students," said Robert Cooper, the activities director for Elm Croft, which is the senior living facility at which the mentors reside. "It means the world to them to be here, and what these students do for my people goes beyond words."
It is all about passion, dedication, hard work and a love of nature on the part of the students, Manley and her teaching staff, and the dedicated, caring mentors from Elm Croft.
Luci Davis is the State Junior Master Gardener Coordinator. For more information on the program, phone (334) 703-7509.