The peace garden at Jack London Community Day School is much more than a place for quiet contemplation and peace studies. Students at this year-round program in Valley Glen, California are getting a head start on their future through a six course plant and soil science career pathway. The course prepares at-risk high school students for jobs in the horticulture field through hands-on experiences in nursery growing and maintaining plants, building garden structures, landscape maintenance, and developing relationships with community members and one another. Students are responsible for every aspect of the garden from building to harvest. A team of dedicated educators led by Program Director Myrna Fleming and Bruce Woodside, Master Gardener and Certified Permaculture Designer, supervise and guide students as they develop and maintain the space. Student-created artwork adds a personal touch to the garden is woven throughout the campus.
Peace is a central theme for this 2014 Muhammad Ali Center Peace Garden Grant recipient, a grant program offered by National Gardening Association. The garden brings purpose and alternative learning opportunities to the lives of students who struggle or have been expelled from a traditional high school setting. Since the establishment of the garden, students can be seen working together and with community partners to sell produce, secure funding, and coordinate volunteer opportunities. Program Director Fleming believes student success can be linked directly to work in the garden. "As a community day school we educate students who've been expelled, are at high-risk, or been referred by the probation department to catch-up on credits and develop the social skills that will enable them to return to a traditional school. For our students, the experience of working together in the garden and of forming a unified community has been instrumental in building a more harmonious atmosphere on our campus, which transfers into the classroom and plays an important role in keeping our high-risk youth from drifting further into trouble," Fleming notes. The most recent addition to the garden program is the establishment of 20 dwarf fruit trees around the campus. Students cut up strips of concrete to make planting spots for trees around the campus.