EDGEWORTH — The Summerbridge Secret Garden program at Sewickley Academy takes hands-on learning seriously.
Or maybe it should be hands-in learning. As Jordan Gilliard, 15, of Pittsburgh said, "Well, I’ve learned how to get down and dirty.”
The Secret Garden is a learning elective that has been offered at Sewickley Academy since 1993. Sarah Walters of Cannonsburg, executive director of the Summerbridge program, sought to provide the students with a unique and healthful experience.
"I wanted our students to have the opportunity to learn about sustainability,” Walters said.
Splitting the six-week program in half gave ninth- and 10th-graders from the academy a chance to work in the garden, which serves as an "outdoor laboratory” during the school year. Besides giving the students an excuse to ditch their desks and soak up the sun, the gardening teaches the students how to eat healthier with fresh produce.
Ashley Jones, 22, of Greensburg has worked with students this summer using her own experience in the garden.
"I always grew up with a garden … so I wanted to show the kids what it was like,” Jones said.
Though she’s a seasoned gardener, Jones didn’t let the students take the back seat.
Tavien Chancellor, 15, from the Pittsburgh’s North Side neighborhood, said, "(It’s) something different. I don’t usually grow plants and pick weeds.”
The Secret Garden program aims to give experience to those who don’t usually have the opportunity. The urban areas of Pittsburgh aren’t easy to garden, which often leaves students with little gardening knowledge. The students quickly found out there was a lot more to gardening than expected.
Tyler Coleman, 15, of Pittsburgh’s East Liberty section said, "I was surprised how much work it takes to maintain a garden so you can sustain yourself with fresh produce.”
But the group rose to the challenge.
In the short time she had with them, Jones said, "I feel like they really have learned a lot.”
Despite the rainy weather, the garden has been fruitful, allowing the students to reap what they sow.
One of the best parts, Chancellor said, was "probably eating the stuff we grew. It’s not often that I eat fresh veggies.”
The students picked the ingredients straight from the ground, cleaned them and cooked them. With the fresh produce in hand, Jones took the next step in helping teach the students how to create a healthy meal. Last week’s menu featured homegrown honey-glazed carrots.
"I like the freshness. I don’t like carrots, but I ate them,” said Coleman.
Walters, who was a Sewickley Academy student herself, said she has loved to watch the Summerbridge program grow and provide an experience such as this. The program is working to provide more services during the school year for the students. Walters also would love to see the garden become something more regular.
Despite the delicious meals, Jones said the best part was "watching their faces when they got to pick something and watching them make it.”