A San Diego County Office of Education employee was recently
honored by the San Diego County Probation Department for her work with a
horticulture program at a juvenile detention facility.
Joni Gabriel, a horticulture instructor, received the Chief’s
Community Partner Award Feb. 12 at the Probation Department’s annual
employee-recognition event. Gabriel has helped start and run the Growing Opportunities
Gardening Program at Girls Rehabilitation Facility, also known as GRF, in San
“It was a great honor to be recognized in this way,” Gabriel
said. “It really recognized that Probation values the program.”
However, Gabriel stressed that it wasn’t just an award for
her. The honor is shared with the various partners who have worked together to
make the program possible.
The gardening program is a cooperative undertaking of the
county Probation Department, San Diego County Office of Education, and the
University of California Cooperative Extension. The garden at GRF was built
with support from these partners, as well as the federal Centers for Disease
Control, the county Health and Human Services Agency, and individual donations.
The large garden area at GRF includes a greenhouse, potting
tables, raised planter beds, a sink, a picnic table, and composting bins.
Students helped to design and build it.
Work began on it last year. Before then, the area was
nothing but plain asphalt.
The girls in Girls Rehabilitation Facility attend Sierra
Vista School, which is one of the San Diego County Office of Education’s
Juvenile Court and Community Schools (JCCS). The facility, which serves girls
between the ages of 13 and 17, offers an intensive, highly structured program
focused on cognitive restructuring.
While tending to the plants in the garden, the students
learn about science, teamwork, empathy and various aspects of gardening.
“It’s really making a difference,” Gabriel said. “The reason
why I do this work is because the kids that we’re working with, they are part
of my community. When everybody in the community is doing well, we all benefit.”
The program at GRF is the most developed horticulture
program in the JCCS campuses, but there are smaller programs at Reflections
Central School in La Mesa and East Mesa Juvenile Detention Facility in
southeastern San Diego.
Studies have shown that gardening can help people of all
ages in a variety of ways, including enhancing cognitive functioning, improving
concentration, increasing attention span, boosting self-esteem, and reducing
Photo: Joni Gabriel in the Girls Rehabilitation Facility garden.