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May 01, 2012   Email to Friend 

Garden Plants Positive Seeds For Troubled Students
Mary Johnson

Federation member farmer John Locker, wearing the cap, gives a student a jalapeno pepper to plant.
Life’s lessons are often learned outside the four walls of a classroom. At the corner of West College Street and North Cherokee in Florence, Ala., local high school students are learning volumes from a small three-row garden on the back side of the Burrell Slater Community Education Center.

Life’s lessons are often learned outside the four walls of a classroom. At the corner of West College Street and North Cherokee in Florence, Ala., local high school students are learning volumes from a small three-row garden on the back side of the Burrell Slater Community Education Center.

Sophomore Andrew Hamer said the garden is his first experience with planting, but it has already taught him a lot.

“I’ve learned the plants are like us kids,” Hamer said. “They need their nutrients, and we need our nutrients.”

Students who tend the garden are part of the Special Programming for Achievement Network (S.P.A.N.) and were referred to the program as an alternative to the juvenile detention center. S.P.A.N. Program Coordinator Anthony Brooks said he uses the garden as a tool to teach about real life.

“In the garden, you plant a seed, take care of it and watch it grow,” Brooks said. “We teach the kids that whatever you plant will grow if it’s nourished. But if you only plant negative things, that’s what you’re going to get.”

Brooks draws many parallels between the students and the plants in the garden. He says the garden helps his students understand they are in control of their lives, and while S.P.A.N. can provide education for a positive life foundation, the power for individual change and growth lies within each student.

In its second year, the garden is now sponsored by the Lauderdale County Farmers Federation. Federation member and local farmer John Locker learned about the garden late in the season last year and decided to lend a hand.

“This is just my way of giving back,” Locker said. “With this group of kids, we can get a lot accomplished in just 20 minutes.”

The Lauderdale County Farmers Federation paid for the plants, while Locker provided a special garden guard liner designed to minimize weed growth. He also donates his time, teaching the students how to fertilize and care for the garden.

When planting tomatoes and peppers, Locker divided the group into diggers, fertilizers and planters. One digger shrieked when discovering a grub worm for the first time. Others dug up the remnants of onions and garlic planted last year, daring each other to eat the plants.

Junior Molly Brown said she has planted a garden at her house before, but she thinks it’s unique to have a garden at school.

“The only problem with it is the heat, but I really like going out and working it,” Brown said. “We all appreciate Mr. Locker coming and helping us with it.”

Freshman Austin Durham participated with the garden last year, but he didn’t have much experience out in the dirt before that. “I know how to plant now,” Durham said. “I know you need to have fertilizer and water. I even planted a tree at home last year, and it’s still growing.”

In the past, students donated the produce to other groups who use the education center, including a culinary class and senior citizens group. They hope to do the same with this year’s crop.

The students have embraced the program. At the start of each school week, they are eager to visit the garden and see its new growth.

“This garden shows us we have better things to do,” said Hamer, who will graduate this spring. “We can make a garden, which is a big responsibility and much better than getting in trouble. We’re making our life useful. It’s going to be beautiful.”


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