This past spring, students from Rockway Mennonite Collegiate’s Grade 8 class began participating in a new project whose goal is to build character, skills and perspective; and to create opportunity for students to serve our larger community.
The students, led by science teacher Gail Snyder, extended their classroom learning by working alongside adults with intellectual challenges as an extension of KW Habilitation’s Our Farm program. The expected outcome of this gardening project aligns closely with both Rockway’s mission and the vision of KW Habilitation, which is to foster “a community where everyone belongs and participates.” Sessions were planned and led by Jenny Weickert, the Our Farm coordinator; Stacey Mitchell, KW Career Compass Project supervisor; and other staff members.
Each week, from April 11 to June 6, 2018, a group of four to six Grade 8 students, accompanied by teachers or parent volunteers, travelled to one of the KW Habilitation sites, learning about gardening tools and practices, and working on projects with participants. Sessions were two hours long and involved a classroom component as well as hands-on work.
Some students had the opportunity to work in gardens at the David Fisher Residence or KW Habilitation’s facility on University Avenue in Waterloo. Others assembled outdoor planter boxes, prepared soil, planted seedlings or helped process vegetables at KW Habilitation’s new facility in Kitchener.
Throughout, students were able to extend their perspective by seeing how a local community organization does good work, and they were able to see how their own knowledge and skills can be used to build a stronger community.
The KW Habilitation staff were impressed with the ability of Rockway students to quickly connect with their participants, showing little awkwardness and recognizing how they could be most helpful. KW Habilitation participants were excited to share their knowledge and experience with the students.
When reflecting on their Our Farm experience, the only complaint shared by Rockway students was that they were not able to take part in the program more than one time each.
This school year, Rockway is planning to further expand the initiative, and students from all grades will participate in similar community-based learning opportunities, serving in a variety of settings within the local YWCA and Working Centre.
Grade eight Rockway students, Alors Lin (foreground) and Ellery Ezekiel help plant one of 20 10’ by 10’ plots in the Courtland-Shelley Community Centre Garden. (Rockway Mennonite Collegiate photo)