From Seed to Plant: Nueces County JJAEP’s Student Garden

After weeks of preparation, students and staff at the Nueces County Juvenile Justice Alternative Education Programs (JJAEP) were excited to finally kick off the official start of Spring. How? Brand new on-campus garden beds for their student garden.

Thanks to a partnership with Kevin Gibbs, a Horticultural Extension Agent with Texas A&M AgriLife, two additional garden beds were built on campus for students participating in hybrid learning instruction this school year. (Hybrid learning is a mixture of remote learning and in-person classroom teaching.)

Prior to the emergence of COVID-19, Program Director Angela Rios reached out to Mr. Gibbs with an idea for building a campus garden so students could get some hands-on learning for life science.  The garden beds were an excellent opportunity to provide students with in-depth learning experience. On top of that, it enabled teachers to enhance their instruction by translating classroom topics into practical skills.

Educators and researchers have noted the many benefits to student participation in school garden programs, ranging from higher test scores to improved social skills and behavior.

As school buildings have shuttered across the nation due to the pandemic, the Nueces County JJAEP student garden has continued to bloom.

“Before the pandemic, we harvested vegetables from the garden and shared them with students and their families to enjoy at home,” stated Mrs. Rios. Last Spring, one garden bed produced a huge variety of vegetables, including arugula, radishes, cucumbers, cilantro, peppers and tomatoes.

This year, students chose to plant cilantro, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, and cantaloupe in the two brand new beds.  Within days, sprouts appeared before their eyes.

As another school year comes to an end, reshaped by the pandemic, the Nueces County JJAEP garden has become a symbol of resilience, perseverance and hope.  Our students are already excited for this season’s new harvest.

UPDATE (8/23/21): When Nueces County staff returned for the 2021-2022 school year, they were surprised and excited to find many fruits and vegetables waiting for them! As students return to in-person learning, they’ll have the opportunity to take the harvest home and plant additional seeds for the upcoming year.

JJAEP youth holder up a plant grown in the garden

Learn more about how our Juvenile Justice programs have been using remote learning to keep kids motivated this school year and how local soldiers tutor students to keep them engaged.


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