June 22, 2017

June 2017 Featured Schools: Goethe Elementary and Southside Occupational Academy

Student and Lowe’s Hero digging at Goethe Elementary School
Student and Lowe’s Hero digging at Goethe Elementary School.  © Sandy Bressner, 2017

It’s been a busy spring for Nature Works Everywhere grantees as plants, compost, and mulch have been going into the ground across the country. Schools have planted pollinator gardens, rain gardens, and vegetable patches in a mad dash this spring.

For the month of June, we are highlighting two Chicago schools: Goethe Elementary and Southside Occupational Academy.

In Chicago, Goethe Elementary’s project aims to address challenges around access to healthy food for its students and helping native plant biodiversity thrive in an urban setting. Enhancing the school’s green infrastructure with native plants that will attract pollinators while also alleviating flooding and erosion is a critical focus. In May, Goethe invited school staff, students and volunteers to join with staff from The Nature Conservancy and Lowe’s Heroes to install a native habitat garden, revitalizing a neglected space right in front of the school.

Twenty Lowe’s Heroes joined the workday and functioned like a well-oiled machine. Along with them, class after class of students came out to get the job done. Waves of young people, totaling approximately 180 students, made their mark on the space by digging, planting, and watering to make the workday a success. The job was indeed well done, as there were over 200 perennials planted and several transplanted vegetables.

Goethe students smiling and holding a worm
Goethe students smiling and holding a worm. © Sandy Bressner, 2017

“At [Goethe Elementary], we believe that students should be provided with a variety of instructional resources and strategies to fit individual needs and enhance the learning process. With this grant and this workday today, The Nature Conservancy and Lowe’s are helping us create a living green classroom to provide our students an enriching and beautiful outdoor space to learn in and enjoy. The garden provides students a natural environment to experience hands-on science learning, as well as engage in many other learning concepts for their other courses,” says Dr. Huu Nguyen, the parent volunteer and garden coordinator at Goethe Elementary.

Goethe students and Lowe’s Heroes planting
Goethe students and Lowe’s Heroes planting. © Sandy Bressner, 2017

Even local media showed up to capture the day with students, faculty and volunteers. Check out the local coverage by WCIU’s You & Me This Morning, a Chicago talk-and-entertainment show, featuring three segments that you can find here.

Another school in Chicago, Southside Occupational Academy (SOA), held a student-led farmer’s market just a week after the native garden installation at Goethe Elementary. SOA is a school for students with disabilities, ages 16–22, that teaches different vocational skills such as culinary arts, custodial work, horticulture, retail, and much more. SOA is in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago where access to local, healthy food is a major challenge for students and their families. Their Nature Works Everywhere project is focused on helping young people grow their own nutritious food while developing critical life and work skills that students carry far beyond the walls of the school. One example of how SOA is helping students develop skills they will need to be successful after they graduate is the student-led farmer’s market they hosted on May 19th, 2017. Students were joined by faculty, community members and partners to get hands-on experience with public outreach, customer service and sales. These students engaged with the public to sell products they harvested. Practicing these skills will surely prepare SOA students to blossom into salespeople!

SOA student and teacher
SOA student and teacher. © Jason Whalen

As eager as SOA students were to flex their entrepreneurial muscles, they realized that doing it for the first time may require assistance with heavy lifting, so Lowe’s once again joined the day with 15 Heroes ready for action. They were met by nearly 175 SOA students along with 30 SOA teachers and several Chicago staff members from The Nature Conservancy (TNC). With the help of Lowe’s and TNC, SOA students were able to sell honey, potted peppers, papaya seedlings, coleuses and succulents from their own garden to the public. “Without the support from the [Nature Works] grant, we would not have had as much community support in order to fully reach our goal of implementing a successful student-run market”, says SOA teacher and project lead, Regina Hawkins. “This was very important because often our students do not get to see the results of their…efforts displayed or utilized.” Again, Lowe’s went above and beyond by not only helping with the farmer’s market, but also installing chicken wire for ducks the students have on site.

WCIU’s You & Me This Morning covered the event, and you can find the interviews here.

SOA student working a table at the farmer’s market
SOA student working a table at the farmer’s market. © Jason Whalen