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 SDCOE Employee Honored for Horticulture Program

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 Diego.

“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 stress.

Photo: Joni Gabriel in the Girls Rehabilitation Facility garden.