"Dr. Rock, would we be able to come and help over the summer?"
The Cincinnati Waldorf High School 10th and 11th Grade Students stand in a circle waiting for Dr. Rock to share the goals for the day. The students have been working at 6200 Desmond Street in Madisonville, two hours a day for the past two weeks.
What was once an overgrown blank slate is blossoming into what, one day very soon, will be a beautiful Peace Garden. Gravel walkways that weave in and out in geometric patterns, plots of soil with Lemon Balm and Black-Eyed Susans, benches just beginning to be built, and a chicken coop surrounded by lush green trees (more on this later!).
Dr. Steve Rock, a full-time Environmental Protection Agency employee, takes time off work every morning to build this garden with CWHS students. He has spent more than a decade building gardens in the Madisonville community as well as providing chickens to families in need. His vision for this particular garden is a place where all local Madisonville community members can come together in a peaceful and beautiful environment. Nestled between two churches, families can spend their afternoons to take leisurely walks along the gravel paths, use the space as an outdoor classroom, and of course find nourishment from the perennial garden.
Steve really has thought of everything, as he wants the entire community to find tranquility in this garden. Remember that chicken coop from before? It's for chickens who are retiring - chickens who are past their prime, no longer able to lay eggs, and who just want to live the rest of their lives in a beautiful shady coop.
When Lauren Wulker, CWHS Life Science and Chemistry teacher, realized that class trips would be canceled due to COVID, she decided it was time to innovate. She asked herself how to get teenagers to shift their perspectives from looking inward towards themselves to looking outward toward the world around them. Lauren remembered her time in high school and realized it was community service that did this for her.
Lauren contacted Plant Cincinnati, a non-profit organization that has worked with CWHS before and was connected to Dr. Rock. After some back and forth, they decided students would help build this particular garden, one big project where they could see the results of all their hard work. Lauren didn't ask for much - just enough work for two hours a day for the next three weeks. Looking back, Dr. Rock fondly remembers and is "delighted that Lauren dragged [him] into it."
In the past two weeks, with the help of the mentors, Dr. Rock, Lauren Wulker, and Fred Annexstein (CWHS Math and Science teacher), along with the helpful and encouraging pip Bodie, the students have transformed this overgrown plot of land by working hard and, most importantly, working together.
They cleared fences of vines and brush, leveled pathways, weeded, edged, set stones, and evened gravel, with careful attention to make sure the garden was accessible to everyone.
Every student learned to use tools they may have never seen before, weed whackers, automatic post hole diggers, even flame weeders. Not only have they used them, but they are now proficient enough to teach other students to use them!
On this particular day, Dr. Rock came ready to go. Throughout the night he had brainstormed ways to help inspire these students to get motivated by the work. He decided the best thing was to give them one big job. The job? Moving a large pile of gravel. He gave them the task and watched as they delegated the work based on their own strengths and weaknesses. The idea was extremely successful and students jumped right into action. Lauren even pointed out students who had never even picked up a shovel until that day, digging into the pile of stone.
The students still have a few more days of this project, and although some begrudgingly pick up the rake, others are very much enjoying the time they spend outside each day. One student remarked, "I really enjoy it. Ut's really nice to get outside in the morning and do a job instead of being in the classroom."
What are the educational goals of this project? Dr. Rock says, "[it's] a little bit to do with building a garden, accomplishment, a little bit of self-esteem, teamwork, friendship, and helping the community."
The students seemed to really enjoy it and so did Dr. Rock, "hanging out with the kids for three weeks has actually been quite special!" Which is good because it looks like Dr. Rock might be seeing some students over the summer! This particular garden might be finished by the time school starts again, but a relationship has been created and there are many other gardens to build!