Some of SDCOE's most vulnerable students are learning life skills, job skills, management skills, and more by going outdoors at Second Chance Blended Community School.
These teens have earned the opportunity to work in the Second Chance Youth Garden, which is overseen by Second Chance, a nonprofit group SDCOE partners with at the Encanto school.
"I wanted the experience, the responsibility at a young age to prepare me for the future," a 16-year-old Second Chance student said of working in the garden program. "I started liking the garden work." Plenty of schools have gardens nowadays, but what makes this one different is that students get lessons from all aspects of the garden, from cultivation to selling the fresh produce. They even earn a stipend for their work in the six-week program.
"It's a job-training program," Second Chance Youth Garden Manager Kristin Kvernland said. The students spend six weeks with Kvernland, working in the garden after school at least three days a week.
Kvernland recently added two peer supervisors to the garden cohort, giving some students even more leadership experience.
"We hold them to a higher standard," she said. "These are students who have been through the garden program more than once. They participate in six skill-building workshops, so they will be able to teach other students."
Students can earn work-readiness credit by selling produce at SDCOE's main campus, which happens every other Friday. The produce sales help cover the cost of the stipends paid to students. Second Chance produce is also sold in a community supported agriculture (CSA) service with UrbanLife, and to a nearby restaurant, Nate's Garden Grill on Home Avenue.
"We like to sell at SDCOE because of the educational connection," Kvernland said. "We're selling to people who understand and support the alternative education model. The students get to meet people they never really knew before."
The fruits of the teens' labor have earned fans at SDCOE. "As soon as I discovered this, now I've got it on my calendar," said farmers market regular Sally Fox, Learning and Leadership Services. "It's the most beautiful produce I've ever seen in my life."
As they sell produce, the students gain marketing and sales skills, and get the chance to share their knowledge about what they grow.
Back in the Second Chance classroom, instructors say the garden program motivates students. Most of the 30 or so students at the school were referred by the county Probation Department. Second Chance school is part of Momentum Learning, an SDCOE program providing education to students who have been referred by social services agencies, courts, or other school districts.
"It's great to see the kids work with their hands," Second Chance teacher Gloria Taaca said. "When I heard there was a garden here, I jumped at the chance to be here. The kids love it."
Taaca said she sees garden participants motivated in their core classes. It also gives them a sense of calm and time to reflect.
Photos: Second Chance Youth Garden Manager Kristin Kvernland; Second Chance produce at the SDCOE farmers market.