Local teens get their hands dirty learning to garden

In All, News by Linda Givetash

This piece was also featured in: Waterloo Region Record
Published: June 4, 2013 [ WEB ]

WATERLOO —

Putting away their smartphones and computers, a class of high school students has discovered the benefits of working with their hands.

Grade 11 students in the Housing and Design course at Sir John A. Macdonald Secondary School put the finishing touches on their garden Monday after a semester of learning about planting and maintaining the site.

“It’s a great hands-on opportunity for them,” said teacher Melinda Paas. “They learn a lot of skills about gardening, plants and teamwork.”

Shovelling piles of mulch out in the sun on Monday morning, the students shared how grateful they were to be able to take this course.

“I didn’t really know much about gardening … it will help me for when I’m on my own,” said Rebekah Deutsch, 17.

Paas said while she had the idea to propose the course to the Waterloo Region District School Board, it came to fruition thanks to support from the school board and businesses and organizations in the community that provided the space and tools she needed.

For many students, the course taught them for the first time important lifelong skills of how to properly shovel, load and dump wheelbarrows and care for a garden.

The physical outdoor work was also appealing to students like Deutsch and Duncan Rabbets who not only appreciated the break from the traditional classroom but recognized the health benefits of the activity.

“It’s easy and it builds biceps,” Rabbets said.

Before their garden could take shape students first learned the complexities of growing vegetables, ensuring that weather and soil conditions are right for each unique plant.

As their plants have grown, the students have reaped the benefits of their hard work.

Students were able to take home zinnias for Mother’s Day as well as tomato plants. Spinach and lettuce plants in the vegetable garden on the east side of the school are looking promising, too.

“We’re hoping to make that connection that you can grow your own food,” Paas said.

And the students are certainly taking that lesson to heart.

Jocelyn Myers, 18, said once she’s living on her own, she plans on growing her own vegetables to eat.

“It’s way better because I’m not running to the store … I can grow it myself and have it all stocked and frozen,” she said.

With such positive remarks from the students in the course this semester, Paas said its popularity is growing. While 14 students were registered in the course this semester — already an increase from the fall — even more students have registered for the next school year.

“I would recommend this course to anybody,” said Shyanne Talbot, 16. “It’s hard work, but it’s fun and you get treats to eat after.”

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Linda Givetash

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Linda Givetash is a Canadian-South African freelance journalist based in Vancouver, B.C. Her work has appeared in print, digital and broadcast media outlets around the globe.