Making Awesome Changes: Community garden provides opportunity for students to grow

Program teaches more than gardening to Harris Middle School students

SAN ANTONIO – Students at Harris Middle School in the Northeast Independent School District have helped turn a space on campus into a sprawling community garden. Led by science teacher Loryn Windwehen and fine arts teacher Lacey Trevino, the garden has grown since breaking ground in 2010.

"Anybody that comes out here to work on it, they love it," Windwehen said. "They love it. It's just a matter of getting them out here and letting them see."

Since the garden's inception, it has grown from a little project to an actual elective for students to take. Windwehen, who is the sponsor of the "Green Team," said she keeps the class size small, to about 15 students, for a variety of reasons.

"I purposely keep it small for safety reasons, and so that I can form better relationships with the students," Windwehen said. "It allows things to run more smoothly."

"It was pretty interesting to have one of these (programs) in schools, because you rarely see a big-scale garden this great in a school, and it's all managed by kids," eighth-grader Michael Nguyen said.

Eighth-grader Miwa Stowers, the Green Team's president, said she got interested in the program after seeing her sister go through it.

"Four years ago, when my sister was a seventh-grader, she joined the garden class and at that time it wasn't very big," Stowers said. "Every day, she would come home, and she would have harvested vegetables, and I thought it was so interesting, because she was doing something you don't usually do at school."

The garden does have a portion that is for the surrounding community where residents help plant crops as well, and it will continue during the summer. Windwehen said a group of volunteers, including some of the students, will come in throughout the summer to harvest crops, pull weeds, and make sure the drip irrigation system is doing its job.

A majority of the crops harvested, however, stay with the students. Stowers said it gives her a better feeling about her work and what she eats.

"I feel better because knowing that I helped in the creation of new vegetables, and that they are better for the environment, and they're better for you to eat since they are organic and they taste better too," Stowers said.

"It feels good when you've accomplished it, because you did it," sixth-grader Kylie Salazar said.

The garden also contains a waystation that attracts Monarch butterflies, giving them a place to eat and lay their eggs. That, along with other aspects of the garden, allowed it to be certified as a National Wildlife Habitat.

The garden also recently installed a greenhouse, using money received after winning the San Antonio Spurs Team-Up Challenge. Inside, the students have planted hundreds of plants and trees that will grow throughout the year.

Windwehen said she hopes students learned responsibility and giving back through their work in the garden.

"This allows both of those things to happen at the same time, because if they don't take care of their plants, they don't have anything to give to others," Windwehen said.

For more information on our Making Awesome Changes series with Salud Amercia!, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation-funded Latino childhood obesity network based at the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, click here.

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