Title

Benefiting At-Risk Youth through an Agricultural Initiative at an Alternative School

Location

Scarbrough 3

Strand #1

Social & Emotional Skills

Strand #2

Family & Community

Relevance

II. Heart - Fostering social and emotional skills and the social climate for all children and youth especially for high-poverty populations

V. Home - Developing and enhancing family and community support for all children and youth especially for high-poverty populations.

The agricultural initiative promotes leadership development by equipping students who demonstrate positive qualities in class to participant in supplemental activities within the context of a school garden. One purpose of the garden is to promote leaders within the student body to lead other students in making more constructive life-style choices (II-Heart). The students at the school were in charge of the garden, thus giving them more power to make decisions within the school (II-Heart). Following the first year within the school gardening program, 4 summer interns were hired by Auburn University because of their work ethic and commitment to staying out of trouble in and out of school. It was this assumption that these students could learn further agricultural skills and bring them to the forefront in their classrooms the following year (II-Heart; V-Home). A primary responsibility of a summer intern is to partner with farmer’s markets, local restaurants, a food delivery service, a local food bank, and Auburn University in order to provide farm-to-table produce for the community (V-Home). Using social capital obtained during the summer internship, the students will have fostered stronger school-community partnerships. The partnerships developed will provide the opportunity for additional positive community engagement to at-risk students at the alternative school (V-Home).

Brief Program Description

Objective: This presentation is designed to demonstrate how an agricultural initiative benefits at-risk youth by providing them with essential positive life skills and opportunities.

Topics: Agriculture, Alternative Education, Community-University Partnerships

Target Audience: Teachers, Principals, University Faculty

Summary

In August 2014, O Grows, a non-profit organization, introduced an agricultural initiative to Opelika Learning Center (OLC). OLC is an alternative 6-12 school that school houses approximately 85 at-risk students whose enrollment in traditional middle and high school has been temporarily or permanently suspended. Most students at OLC are a recipient of multiple referrals from previous schools for instances such as in and out of school violence, drug/alcohol abuse, and teenage pregnancy among many other issues. The agricultural initiative was founded to benefit the students by providing leadership opportunities, life skill development, community engagement, a stronger school climate, and mentorship.

Throughout the school year classroom experiences were supplemented by practical, hands-on agricultural education. Activities included lessons on compost, soil composition and amendments, cultivation, planting and harvesting, and plant life cycle. These lessons provided the students the ability to witness and experience the application of curriculum objectives. One goal of the agricultural initiative was to equip the students with skills that would benefit them outside the walls of the school building. These skills would promote personal growth and development by preparing the students to become productive members of society. An additional goal was to provide students with an alternative outlet that would lend itself to positive, non-destructive life choices. In the garden, students were provided with the advantageous experience of interacting with Auburn University staff and mentors. Through these interactions, students were able to learn about different paths after graduation that they were not typically exposed to at home or school.

Evidence

Failure to finish high school is becoming an even greater problem as students are leaving with great difficulty finding a job later and having leadership skills that make them marketable to employers and colleges after high school graduation. Alabama has some of the lowest completion rates for K-12 in the country (NCES, 2013). Students who engage in violence, drugs, and sexual promiscuity are at a far greater risk of dropping out of school or never graduating with a high school diploma.

Garden based learning endeavors have been utilized in schools for some time (Blair, 2009). The benefits of these agricultural initiatives are as varied as the projects themselves, but a few foundational benefits remain consistent. Socially, school gardens enable students to interact with teachers and volunteers in a varied environment, predominantly through cultivating plant life and realizing the relationships people have between plants and nature (Alexander et al., 1995). School gardens also open the door to subjects that many students do not learn about, such as science and agronomy. School gardens are also an effective tool to foster active and experiential learning through the lessons being taught (Mabie and Baker, 1996). In addition to the educational and social benefits of school gardens, it also provides a distinctive outlet for students to express interest in educational content through personal interaction and discovery (Skelly and Bradley, 2000). These many benefits can contribute to the overall enjoyment of at-risk students’ education in alternative schools and limit maladaptive behaviors.

Format

Individual Presentation

Biographical Sketch

Dr. Sean Forbes – Associate Professor, Educational Psychology at Auburn University within the Department of Educational Foundations, Leadership, and Technology; Executive Director, O Grows;

Eric Hogan – Ph.D. student of Educational Psychology

Stephen Powell – Ph.D. student of Educational Psychology

Presentation Year

2016

Start Date

3-8-2016 10:15 AM

End Date

3-8-2016 11:30 AM

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Mar 8th, 10:15 AM Mar 8th, 11:30 AM

Benefiting At-Risk Youth through an Agricultural Initiative at an Alternative School

Scarbrough 3

Objective: This presentation is designed to demonstrate how an agricultural initiative benefits at-risk youth by providing them with essential positive life skills and opportunities.

Topics: Agriculture, Alternative Education, Community-University Partnerships

Target Audience: Teachers, Principals, University Faculty