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Garden Provides Peaceful Setting for Students and Staff at 37ECB

Who couldn't use a tranquil space these days to eat lunch, talk with friends, or just cool off?

Students and staff at 37ECB are finding the garden on the school's side patio provides just the right level of serenity amidst the daily hustle, beeping horns, and traffic hum of their urban campus setting.

Principal Gretchen Rhoads had envisioned a garden at the Juvenile Court and Community Schools campus since she became principal four years ago and finally started one just before the pandemic. Although the garden lost some plants during the facility's closure, enough survived to keep it going.

"This hibiscus plant was a bunch of sticks when we returned," said teacher Cindy Stallo. "We just kept watering it and it finally bloomed."

Stallo oversees the garden with the help of the school's other staff members and students. There is a core group of 10 students who are most involved, but everyone has at some point or another had a hand in keeping it going, she said.

"I like the sunflowers and flowers because they make the garden look really pretty," said Angelica, a student who helps plant flowers and fruits, and picks vegetables. "I find it relaxing, a fun thing to do on a daily basis. I like to get my hands dirty."

Some students participate in the school's garden class; some have done community service in the garden; others have built wood boxes for the produce; and students in the math class are developing a site plan for future planter boxes and calculating the volume of soil they'll need for them.

The garden is currently in a slow growing season, but still has tomatoes, peppers, watermelon, flowers, and herbs like cilantro and basil. At other times, they have grown strawberries, papaya, onions, and squash, among other things. Each Friday, students get to try whatever is produced, take some home, and pass the remainder out to staff. Some of it is also used in cold items, like sandwiches, that are available in the school's cafe.

Stallo works with City Farmers Nursery to get soil, seeds, plants, trees, and garden beds for the garden, and the Master Gardeners Association of San Diego County is providing a dedicated consultant to help nurture the garden and mentor Stallo.

Stallo says it's really fun to see the students participate in the gardening process from start to finish, and knows it's something they are "super proud" of. Both she and Rhoads said it opens up more connections between staff and students because the setting allows staff to have conversations with students they wouldn't necessarily have in the classroom.

"I would advocate for school gardens in every school across America," Stallo said. "When students start playing in the dirt, they talk about how good it makes them feel, essentially how therapeutic it is to just be out there and just working on something," Stallo said.

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