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Leaving a Lasting Mark: Planting Seeds for a Healthier School Community


Youth Voices is working with students from South El Monte High School to explore El Monte/South El Monte and the surrounding communities. The students have formed teams to explore and investigate their communities, map assets, collect and share stories, data and community input for their projects. All the while they are learning and expanding their knowledge of digital media and civic engagement. Follow their work on social media by using the hashtag #KCETYV.

For our Youth Voices project our team brainstormed what were the most important issues facing our community. Health and wellness kept coming up, and when we found some statistics on the high rate of obesity in South El Monte, we knew this was the topic we wanted to investigate. But what would be our outcome? Our school, South El Monte High School, used to have a small garden, so we thought it would be great to bring that garden back, but this time with the intention of growing food that would be nutritional and educational for the students and the community -- promoting healthy eating through urban agriculture.

A school garden could help improve student eating habits by allowing students to learn how to grow fruits and vegetables, and even learn to cook fresh and healthy foods through our culinary arts program. A school garden could be a great opportunity for students to learn how to garden, and for science students to have hands-on trainings and experience what they are currently only learning from textbooks. Our long term goal for the garden is to extend its reach to our school's cafeteria and use the cultivated fresh produce for the student and staff meals, and distribute during the Sunday Swap Meet.

Team Green Sleeves presented to the South El Monte Parent, Teacher, and Student Association (PTSA) board on June 1, 2015. We decided to take our presentation to the PTSA first because we wanted to make sure if this project were to follow through, we would have the support of the parents, teachers, and students. Funding without the help of this association would be very difficult, so knowing that we have their support makes our project seem more like a realistic possibility, rather than a mere group idea.

The GreenSleeves Prezi Presentation - Click to watch
The GreenSleeves Prezi Presentation - Click to watch

Our "ask" to the PTSA was for support and funding, especially through the first few stages of the project. Breaking ground, excavating all the grass, building the garden boxes, and acquiring the seeds and seedlings for the garden will all add up in cost, both in money and labor. We definitely wanted to confirm that we would have their support for both.

Although the PTSA said they loved our idea to bring back a school garden to our community, they would be unable to help us achieve our goal without a clear understanding of the financial cost. They suggested we go to the maintenance department first and get the "okay" to start looking at the plot we want to use for the garden. Then they said that we had to figure out a water system that was going to help us successfully grow fruits, vegetables, and herbs in our school garden. Other than completing these next few steps, they said we were off to a great start. They would be happy to help us identify funding as we get closer to starting the garden. Their feedback was very useful, and much appreciated by the Green Sleeves members.

Our next steps are to address the suggestions made by the PTSA and develop a schedule for the garden for the following year. The schedule will include the following:

  • Start a Garden Club at SEMHS to coordinate activities (clearing the land, planting, fundraising, setting up garden boxes, class schedules, etc.)
  • Contact the EMUHSD Food and Nutrition Project
  • Identify funding/donations/sponsorship by local businesses (Home depot, Lowes, etc.)
  • Connect with City of South El Monte Leaders/Council/Mayor
  • Connect with other school gardens (AHS, MVHS, RHS)
  • Works with community organizations including Earthworks Farm and Amigos de Los Rios

We will return to the PTSA in the fall of 2015 to answer their questions and reconfirm their support with clear action steps. Our plan is to establish the garden by Spring 2016.

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