Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Introducing Holt Middle School...

 My first month serving at Holt Middle School in Fayetteville, AR has been a whirlwind of excitement and exhaustion. There is so much to do and so few coordinated hands to do it. That is why I’m here: to help mobilize members of this community around a common goal. We aim to improve our students’ learning environment and engagement in school, encouraging healthy behaviors and habits while we’re at it. Building relationships with these 5th, 6th, and 7th graders, watching their reactions to trying new foods, observing them exert all their energy to destroy the Bermuda Grass that has it in for our garden – these are all reasons why I love doing this work every day.

Expanding the garden’s role as a teaching tool is not a simple task as teachers struggle to meet this year’s new Common Core requirements. Some even say this year is like being a first year teacher all over again. However, as I say this, the garden program at Holt is slowly taking the school by storm. Right off the bat we expanded garden club hours in order to reach and include more students in garden activities. We added a cooking component as a way to engage more kids and encourage them to take what they learn at school and try it at home. 

Students  and volunteers bring their enthusiasm to the task of weeding. 
How do we balance wanting to include any kid remotely interested in the excitement of cooking and gardening with wanting to teach a dedicated group of students to plan, build, and maintain a garden of their own? We’re still figuring it out. But in the meantime, students are showing me that the work we are already doing is worth every second. 

This "mini garden" greets everyone at the entrance to the school.
The other day at lunch, one of my 6th grade students points at the bell pepper in my heaping salad and asks, “what’s that red thingy?” I tell her that it’s a sweet bell pepper and ask her if she’s ever tried one. She shakes her head, and I proceed to take a piece of my bell pepper, dip it in my homemade balsamic vinaigrette and pass it over to her. She makes a scared face and asks me if it’s good. I say, “It’s delicious! Try it!” So she tries it, and as I expected, likes it. Now that was rewarding, but things get even better when we’re sitting together at lunch the following day and she says, “I told my grandma about the peppers we ate yesterday. She said she loves peppers too. Can you give us the recipe for your sauce?” I say, “Of course!” and let her know that I’ll show the whole club how to make the dressing once our lettuce gets big enough to make salads. She smiles, and my eyes light up at the thought of all the future experiences I can bring to these kids with the help of my team at Holt and the local community of volunteers.

by Sophia Gill 


  1. Great job Sophia. Love the story.

  2. I am so impressed by the work at Holt! Thanks for such a great story!