Leadership group takes on garden project at Golden Hill - KTTC Rochester, Austin, Mason City News, Weather and Sports

Leadership group takes on garden project at Golden Hill

ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) -- Golden Hill Alternative Learning Center in southeast Rochester might look like a typical school. But inside, you immediately see and feel the difference.

"The students that we serve here at Golden Hill are at-risk students, they have many things in their lives that have made connecting and being productive students challenging," explains Principal Gordy Ziebart.

The building is the oldest in the district and is in disrepair.  Not only do the students have the least in the way of the facilities, they also lack access to any extra-curricular activities.

"A lot of our students are actually homeless, they don't even live with their families, they're couch surfers," adds Ziebart.  "For almost every student we have, there's a different scenario about their personal life that makes being successful in school difficult."

Three years ago Principal Ziebart started an outdoor garden, which has greatly enhanced student learning and development. 

"We literally started on a shoestring budget, the equipment we got was stuff teachers either donated or picked up at garage sales."

The Leadership Greater Rochester class of 2012 will expand the garden as their class project.  At completion, the garden will be a fully functional seed-to-table operation that will feed the students and be self sustaining. 

Perhaps more importantly, the garden will be able to give even more students a sense of ownership and belonging within the Rochester community.

For 12th grader Dylen Douangmychit, the garden was a step toward taking his life in a different direction.

"I tended to ditch school, just stay home, sleep in, play video games and hang out with my friends and stuff," says Dylen.

Now he says the garden has not only given him a green thumb, it has taught him responsibility.

"I never thought that I would be working in a green house planting plants and vegetables, I learned what I plant is what I'm eating, and that's a good experience for me."

Initially the students get involved in the garden for all kinds of reasons including community service, to avoid suspension, and to earn credits.  Some students volunteer their time before and after school, and even during the summer months.

For many students, the garden also offers fresh food to take home to their families.

"We've had families or students come and say, 'we don't have any food in our house,' and we're able to get a box of things out of the garden and send home with them, and so it becomes a little food shelf too," says Ziebart. 

Both teachers and students also say there is a lot of mentoring going on in the garden, and a lot of therapy sessions that take place almost daily. 

But right now, Principal Ziebart says the garden is in desperate need of community support in order to grow and help students in the years to come.

"The school district obviously doesn't have enough funds for buying tools and seeds and things like that. I want to see the program become sustainable. I want to see it be something that can remain a fabric of our school community."

The Leadership Greater Rochester class is having a fundraiser on Mar. 29 for the Golden Hill Outdoor Learning Environment.   Proceeds will help the group add an outdoor classroom, apple orchard, rain garden, compost area, dedication fence and much more.

The Growing Graduates event is from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Ramada Inn. Tickets are $20 in advance at any Home Federal Bank, or $25 at the door. Appetizers will be provided by Canadian Honker, along with live music from Mark Walsh & Booker.  There will also be a silent auction.

You can also donate in advance at www.facebook.com/goldenhillgarden.

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