BRIGHT FUTURES — Memorial students come together to grow in garden

Published 12:32 am Tuesday, April 12, 2022

In 2019, Memorial High School applied for a grant to build a garden on the campus. Groundbreaking was scheduled April 2020 but the students and staff never returned after spring break due to the pandemic, putting plans on hold.

This semester, students in life skills, environmental systems and biology classes worked to put the garden together.

Michael Oliver, who teaches special education at Memorial, said his students have already been able to reap the fruits of their labor, even before the literal fruit has not yet been grown.

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“We talk about these lessons and we watch videos on how plants grow and where food comes from,” Oliver said. “You can get some stuff from a video, but until you get your hands on it and see it, it is a whole different level of learning. A lot of my kiddos need that tactile learning. It really helps engrain some of that material. It is also a variation from your routine-type of learning. We need to touch it, play with it and taste it.”

Julihanna Villa tills up the ground. (Courtesy photo)

Oliver said the process helps all students learn about the functionality of a garden.

“It gives a connection to the outside world,” he said.

Perhaps more important than the connection to the learning material. Oliver’s life skills students are able to make a connection with fellow classmates.

“We are able to collaborate with them,” Oliver said. “We get to know (general education students), and they get to know us. We don’t get to always be as inclusive as we want to be. Here, we can. We can work with kids that might not be able to talk but can shovel dirt.”

Akiereyanna Clark lifts a cinderblock for the garden at Memorial High School. (Courtesy Photo)

The garden has become a real all-in project for the school’s programs.

“The construction science classes built the foundation for the work shed and green house,” Oliver said. “They have material for picnic and work tables that we are going to use also. The more kids that get involved, the more ownership they are going to have. They will know that is the garden they helped build.”

Jacob Baldwin and Felix Rodriguez, who are students of Oliver’s, said they have enjoyed building the garden.

“It is amazing,” Baldwin said. “I am really active. It is my favorite thing to do. I am a landscaper. I get to experience how to do a garden. This was the first time we had to dig it up, lay the bricks and lay the dirt. It was awesome. I like being able to come out here.”

Rodriguez said he looks forward to planting flowers and watching them grow.

Students help build the garden at Memorial High School. (Courtesy photo)

Ilynn Berdoza, who teaches environmental systems and AP biology, said the garden has become a hit with her classes.

“It is all about the environment,” she said. “When we started the garden, one of the chapters we were learning about was biodiversity. Earth is supposed to have diversity. It is not supposed to be monocultures. We want to teach them where the food actually comes from. It is not about the plant itself. It is also about the soil. How can we create the soil and make it sustainable long term. This will give them a chance to see it in progress. I want them to buy in and learn how to do it together.”

Amaya Oates, Alisson Clark and Chad Smith are in Berdoza’s class and said they enjoy getting outside when the weather permits. Smith said he enjoys interacting with classmates and the challenges of making the garden.

The students only have a few plants in the garden, but plan to add more in the near future.

The program recently received a grant from Port Arthur LNG’s Environmental Champions. The program was one of 13 grant winners.

Oliver said the money will go towards creating paths for wheelchairs in the garden.