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Giving Garden Project Sprouts New Learning Opportunities for Students

September 18, 2015 | posted by Stephen Chavez

Topics: Catholic Schools, Hope for the Future

Giving Garden Project Sprouts New Learning Opportunities for Students

SAN ANTONIO – Since the spring of last year, St. John Berchmans Catholic School, in partnership with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, established a ‘Giving Garden’ for students and the community. Earlier this month Fr. Fidele Dikete, pastor at St. John Berchmans Catholic Church and School was on-hand to bless the Giving Garden, students and volunteers who helped the project grow. Other groups were present during the official launch event to offer support including Southern Winds, a Native American organization, District 5 City Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales, along with officials from the Catholic Schools Office and Hope for the Future.

The Giving Garden was made possible through a five-year grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension. The first year of the grant included choosing a location and building the garden from scratch. 

According to Melinda Garcia, Ph.D., who is leading the program for Texas A&M AgriLife Extension and a 4-H youth development program specialist overseeing the Children, Youth and Families at Risk events in Bexar County, the area where St. John Berchmans Catholic Schools sits used to be very fertile farm land in the early years of the city.

The school has embraced the program and students have been involved in the project from the beginning. The students, and volunteers from Bexar County Master Gardeners, helped to clear the land, build 10 raised garden beds and plant seeds.

St. John Berchmans is a special place for Garcia who taught at the school nearly 20 years ago as her first job out of college. She remembers working closely with the school’s current principal, Beverley Abbott, and praised her for coordinating the time and energy to make the Giving Garden possible.

“Principal Abbott has been instrumental in accepting and embracing 4-H,” said Garcia. “She sees many opportunities for her students.”

Jacob Fuentes, student at St. John Berchmans enjoyed participating in the early stages of the project over the summer, “First we planted tomatoes, and jalapenos, it was really fun for me,” said Jacob.

“Because of this grant we are able to implement 4-H and part of 4-H deals with the Head, Heart, Hands and Health,” said Garcia. “We are able to teach not only about gardening, but about sustainability, nutrition and eating healthier.”

Jacob’s dad, Juan Fuentes, says the hard work is paying off, “What he’s learned is going from how the dirt will create the actual plant, how to properly plant, how to take care of it…it’s really neat to see how much he’s learned.”

School officials say 10 to 25 students came to school every Thursday from 9-11 a.m. over the summer to cultivate the garden during its early stages. Now the garden is maintained by several classes, with help from the master gardeners and St. John Berchmans teachers.

“It’s great to see the kids get involved. To see the kid’s step out of their comfort zone, get involved and become as one” said Juan Fuentes.

Garcia and Abbott say because of the overwhelming support for the Giving Garden, there are potential plans to expand the garden to other parts of campus.

Jacob Fuentes is excited to see the program take deep roots, “I can’t wait to see the garden grow and just see what we build. It’s gonna get bigger as the years go on.”