AN EDUCATIONAL URBAN OASIS, KEVIN JORDAN, LEO PALMITER SCHOOL - SACRAMENTO, CA
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It is now officially summer vacation for most public school districts in the US. Today, you’re joining me and Sarah on a field trip to Leo Palmiter High School in Sacramento, California. For the past nine years, Kevin Jordan, the science and horticulture teacher, has been building a garden and horticulture program from the ground up and from the inside out and back again. It is hard word, inspiring and flourishing. His enthusiasm and spirit shine through, and to kick off your summer vacation I wanted to share a little of his passion and purpose with you. Happy Summer
"Poppy petals fall
Calmly, when they are ready"
When we meet Kevin at Leo Palmiter School, it is a sunny mid-day mid school week. We start off making our way through the heart of the school’s campus, behind fences from the parking lot and entrance, and through outdoor corridors and walkways - what was clearly once highly pressured turf, is now a vibrant flowering bed with student walkways between classrooms on both sides. There are bees and hummingbirds at the salvia, stachys, rosemary, asclepias, heuchera, lavender, daisies and more. It’s textured and layered - green and lively. Kevin is full of passion and energy. We make our way along this with Kevin giving us some background on his program as we head toward his indoor classroom/workshop.
When we leave the pollinator plantings, we enter into Kevin’s workshop style classroom - it is well lit and has a door on the far side from where we enter which is open to what you can see is a gardening area outside - but inside is full of the gear of greenhouses the world over - and more. Racks covered with the greenery of indoor plants, tables are with the seasonal projects which always seem to be mid-process in a working garden space: dried seed heads and screens of seed cleaning, seedlings trays and potting soil - young plants are being pricked out and potted on, the fragrance of potting soil, compost and foliage. And then there are the aquaponics towers that Kevin shares with us.
Kevin Jordan writes: Our school campus is located at the heart of a struggling suburban neighborhood that has experienced more than its share of violence and crime. I believe our school has the potential to impact this community in a positive way by being a beautiful example of how to create and maintain beautiful and edible landscapes that have a beneficial impact on our local environment.
“It builds self-worth, it builds a sense of ‘I can do this, I can learn, I know how to learn’ …
and being able to work independently, but more importantly being
able to work successfully with other people.”
Kevin Jordan, Horticulture Teacher
Leo A Palmiter Jr/Sr High School in Sacramento, CA
From the classroom we head out to the back garden area and walk through a greenhouse and composting area where strawberry towers are producing loads of fruit, and plants for the summer wait being hardened off and set out into the main in ground veg garden which is just beyond the orchard. We head across a small parking lot to get to the orchard and row crop garden.
You can get a sense of Kevin's dynamic teaching style as he moves back and forth from the whimsy and humor of the garden and the great outdoors and the more cerebral gravity of its importance to him and to the hope for long term success of his students - the garden’s ability to reach the hearts and minds, hands and souls of the wide diversity of students in his care these past 9 years is not something he jokes about.
The on-campus garden program in total consists of native plant and pollinator corridors, indoor houseplant growing, aquaponics units, vermiculture and standard composting areas, a small greenhouse and potting area, a fruit tree orchard and an in-ground vegetable garden with seasonal row crops. Additionally, Kevin and his students work in an extensive edible landscape at their nearby public radio station Capital Public Radio in Sacramento.
Kevin Jordan, and the Leo Palmiter Schook generally, serves emotionally disturbed and at-risk students from many different neighborhoods scattered throughout Sacramento, as well as the Arden-Arcade neighborhood in which the school is located. The campus serves about 100 students who typically range in ages from 12-20 years and often come from households with limited financial resources and little parental support. Kevin writes that "The aim of my program is to provide our students with a ‘’hands-on” approach to learning about: horticulture, nutrition, mathematics, business, history, and many other academic disciplines. My program strives to provide students with a safe and dynamic learning experience that they can take pride in. I take pride in. I recently uploaded a song I wrote about plants and learning on YouTube titled "Learn Grow Daily".
I hope you check it out.
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To visit gardeners in the field and see in person their labors of love is always exciting, but visiting Kevin’s classroom and school gardens was really particularly moving. His passion and the program he’s built and tended these past nine years – just think of the exponential numbers of people its impacted? Classes of students for nine years, the other teachers – math, science, English, culinary café teacher, history and technology teachers. Think of all the families of these students and staff who have the beautiful produce come home and growing ideas and energy coming home – from one teacher and one plot of land over a nine year period. It’s that old shampoo advertisement: then she told two friends and she told two friends and she told two friends.
We all know the power of small compounded positive faith action. Well Kevin Jordan is this in spades. What small compounded actions to our gardens or garden lives bring into the world? It’s a good thing to consider…
Integral – integrity – integrated. I think about the connotations that these words bring to mind a lot in the garden. How all of life’s best lessons feel integral to engagement with the garden and nature generally.
Kevin Jordan is clearly driven by these same concepts and connections as he works to reach his students’ strengths and motivations through the power of the garden. Several times in our conversational field trip, he acknowledges how he does not reach every student’s interest with every garden project – but that he knows when does. When it was the building or the tile cutting or the soldering of electrical connections or the culinary café interpretation of the gardens’ produce that finally lights a student up and he can say: Ahah – there it is. We have made connection. Sometimes it's our hands in the living dirt that gets us, sometimes its arranging flowers and foliage, sometimes it’s taking a bite out that sweet juicy peach like a wild goat – as Kevin says….and there’s always more than one way to grow or eat or cook a peach.
It’s these the connections I make with you – gardeners out there in and around the world that light me up – even when I am in my own garden, ini the cool of an early early morning before the summer heat tops for the day. I am there by myself from one view of things – but I am companioned too by all the plants and animals around me and by all of you – out there in your gardens and on your trails. We’re everywhere and as Kevin makes abundantly clear – we need to be. Our human impulse to garden is important, in it we find our similarities as well as our individuality. This impulse is our shared history and our future at its brightest. It makes a difference to our mindsets, to our families, to our communities, our economies and to our environments.
Are you on Instagram or Facebook? Look me up @cultivating_place and say hey – and while you’re there look up and follow @urbanaosis kid to see Kevin’s school garden progress at Leo A. Palmiter High School in Sacramento – you might just keep this conversation going!
My greatest hope for Cultivating Place is to have conversations about these things we love and that connect us all. Together we gardeners and nature lovers make a difference for the better in this world. …
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