September 29, 2011 in Washington Voices

On-Track Academy launches school garden project

By The Spokesman-Review
 
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Jessica Culp, left, and Ashley Hiatt plant a crabapple tree at the On-Track Academy garden last Thursday.
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About On-Track

The On-Track Academy, 4141, N. Regal St., is an alternative high school. Students are juniors and seniors, and the majority are from Spokane Public Schools. On-Track Academy is in its fourth year and holds its own graduation ceremony. Call (509) 354-4821 for more information.

Students and teachers at Hillyard’s On-Track Academy have taken learning to the next level. For the past year, students have researched sustainable gardens and put together plans for how to build and grow one.

The plans were approved by Spokane Public Schools; now the permanent garden is a reality.

“We had a garden last year, but it got paved over,” said Chris Burke, teacher at On-Track Academy. “They needed the space for a parking lot. So we set out looking for a more permanent spot.”

On-Track is located across the street from Regal Elementary School in portable classrooms. The temporary nature of portables can make it difficult for a school to create a sense of identity, Burke said, but the garden will help with that.

“Students designed the garden and the watering system and everything,” said Burke. “We challenged our students to combine their math and science skills, just like you’d do when working on a project in the ‘real world.’ ”

Students will also write papers and do more research about what’s going on in the garden.

If plants look sickly, for instance, they’ll have to find out why and come up with a solution.

“Our goal is to get the students outside of the classroom to learn in the real world,” said Burke, “and we want the community to come in and work with our students. The garden is an invitation to do that.”

It’s a little late in the season for planting, but Burke said they plan to put in some garlic and maybe some kale and other late-season crops.

The garden features raised beds and a rainwater collection system, as well as a compost pile.

Last week, students were planting trees and flowers in newly spread bark mulch.

“The garden gives us hands-on learning, and students get to decide what happens in the garden,” senior Jessica Culp wrote in an email about what the garden means to her.

Burke said he hopes the garden will be something the school can come together about.

“We don’t have sports at our school, but we do have a robotics team,” Burke said. “Hopefully the garden will become a gathering point.”

Next year, when the garden is ready for a full growing season, Burke said produce grown there will be shared with On-Track Academy students and some will be donated to Second Harvest Food Bank’s Plant a Row For the Hungry project.

“To me, the garden represents the colorful year ahead, filled with new, exciting ideas, but also filled with dedication and hard work,” senior Mariah Schoener wrote in an email. “The garden won’t grow itself, but as we grow together, so will the beauty of the garden. I’m glad we have something we can all take part in and share.”


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