The Lawrence High School Garden

Written by FoodCorps service member, Alex Stenner.


At Lawrence High School, the LHS Prep students are building a garden – literally reshaping the land. To give you perspective – the garden is 5,000 square feet in size (50’ x 100’). It’s big enough to be a successful vendor at a farmers market with a serious bounty. Students in the LHS Prep unit are typically 16-22 years of age, and are identified with special needs for education. And, truth be told – I’m impressed by these budding green thumbs (students and teachers alike). We’ve yet to harvest a crop together – but they’ve proven to be hard workers and they can learn anything.

Over the past 8 months, students in the Lawrence High School PREP unit have moved over 20 cubic yards of woodchips (about 12,000 pounds) and spread 4 cubic yards of compost (8,000 pounds - like 2 four-door sedans). When they moved 4 cubic yards of compost, they did so by hand and bucket. Students finished the task in 1 session of 70 minutes, with 15 sets of hands at work (that’s 114 pounds moved per minute). They have learned how to swing a mallet, measure, tie off a tight line to mark out a garden, use a shovel, wheel a barrow, and why on Earth we can use cardboard to smother out grass. We are using math to figure out how many seeds to plant, keeping records, and as always learning how to put respect and care into every action.

At first - students did not question why they were moving over 20 cubic yards of woodchips by hand, or why they were laying cardboard on the ground and then covering it with woodchips. Students knew they were building walking paths – but never asked why we did it this way. I had to ask myself – “Why do they do what I ask them without knowing why? Furthermore, why do they ask to come outside with me without knowing why?” I’ve got to know why if I’m going to be willing to do something.

I realized this was a useless approach to understanding my students so I asked them why they like being out in the garden, doing physical labor like shoveling and running a wheelbarrow. They say “I like being outside,” or “This is real, I like real, I don't like schoolwork.” I can relate. I’m not an office kind of adult.

I’m a FoodCorps service member at Groundwork Lawrence (GWL). Through FoodCorps I help public school youth grow up healthy through gardening, nutrition, and cooking education. I’m happy to give students an opportunity to focus on a real task –  this is what they want, and it’s fortunate that I can enable them guide their own education. While, at the same time, connecting them to real food through gardening.

Garden education works – and it comes in many forms. Today students ask: Why? They are engaged with their learning while in the garden! Plus, the whole school recognizes their work, and the students alongside the teachers are proud of the work they are doing.