GOAL encourages students to explore their environment and discover the resources available to them. Sometimes those resources are staring us in the face—like the old-but-recently-restored greenhouse attached to Rosemount High School that has become a source of student learning, pride and self-discovery.
“Bringing students into the community” is how Rosemount High School’s spiritual community animator, Katie Leggitt, describes her role. And she takes it literally. Inspired by an initiative she heard about during a family trip to Winnipeg, she has, for the past three autumns, made weekly trips with small groups of student volunteers to an organic farm, Ferme du Zéphyr, some 40 kilometres away. There her Secondary Cycle Two city kids help harvest potatoes, carrots and other crops.
“There are no marks for this, but I like to say you get karma points,” says Katie. And the journal she keeps in her car for students to write in during the trip back to school contains some surprising revelations. “Before visiting the farm, one 16-year-old girl had never tasted a raspberry. Another student tried his first habanero pepper.”
Last year, Katie discovered that the school had its own small greenhouse. “It was old and filthy,” she explains, but she took it upon herself to clean it up. A grant from food retailer Metro allowed her to buy earth, seedling trays and other equipment that she could use for student projects. “I thought: we’ve been going to the farm. Why not grow things right here at home?” As a result, 15 students—mostly from Secondary I and II––signed up this past March to plant seeds and tend the young plants during their lunch hours. “A lot of the students have grandparents with gardens,” says Katie. “They feel good showing off skills that they don’t normally get to use in school. You see their natural instincts coming forward.”
“One 16-year-old girl had never tasted a raspberry.”
Katie wasn’t the only one who saw the greenhouse’s potential for student learning. Teacher Robert Douglas soon asked if he could get his science class involved. So on Earth Day, his students planted herbs or flowers in biodegradable pots they had made out of newspaper. “The Secondary I and II curriculum covers the reproductive cycle of plants,” he says. “We now have zucchinis flowering in the greenhouse and the kids can see the different parts of the plants.”
Something to think about
Robert also likes the idea of exposing his students to the possibilities of urban gardening. “It’s important for them to realize where food comes from and its impact on their health. There are a lot of start-ups involved in rooftop and container gardening, delivering local produce to your door, even beekeeping in backyards. It gives kids something to think about.”
If these green initiatives aren’t “miraculously changing anyone,” they are “planting a seed of empowerment in the students over their life experience,” says Katie. “Being able to grow your own food is a very important skill. Students also get a chance to be outside of the stress of high school and be exposed to other lifestyles that challenge their perspective about their own reality.” Adds Robert, “Some kids who aren’t overly interested in what we’re doing in the classroom are really in there and completely involved in the planting.”
Fortunately for Rosemount students, the vision shared by these dedicated educators continues to grow. Two years ago Katie discovered a community garden that is only two blocks away from the school. She applied for a plot and just got word that one is now available. Next spring, she hopes to see students start seeds in the greenhouse and then “walk the seedlings down the street to plant them in the garden.”
Talk about rooting kids in their community.