The Temescal Academy Garden (TAG)
In the summer of 2013 Palisades Beautiful branched out anew by launching a “teaching garden” program at a local alternative high school. It combines a beautifying project with educational outreach to students at Temescal Academy, which adjoins Palisades Charter High School’s much larger campus on Temescal Canyon Road. (We should point out that PaliHigh itself has no school garden program.)
We started the Temescal Academy Garden (TAG) soon after Tom Seyler, the school’s director, told our Vice President Donna Vaccarino about the students there who kept asking for an outdoor place where they could grow both edible plants and flowers. The hardworking, dedicated staff, though, had no time to create a garden area and then offer an actual class that would confer class credits for learning experiences there.
Many of the school’s 75 students commute from distant parts of Los Angeles. All had initially attended PaliHigh (a charter school) to get a better education than their own communities would provide. School counselors eventually transferred them to this campus because they were either at high risk of failing and dropping out or else would benefit socially and academically if moved to a much smaller and more protective learning environment. (An excellent indication of the school’s effectiveness is that almost all seniors there graduate each spring.)
So when Donna reported on what she had learned about Temescal Academy, Palisades Beautiful’s board quickly decided to take on this much-needed garden-creating and program-supplying assignment. At the outset, we improved the campus’ appearance by arranging to trim overgrown trees lining the main fence; otherwise they would shade the future garden area. (Later, we helped beautify the fronts of the prefab classrooms with four huge pots that hold dwarf citrus trees that the teachers had wanted.)
Donna, an architect, quickly initiated TAG by making plans for four large raised beds. She supervised students as they measured where the four beds would go, ordered supplies, arranged for carpenters’ donated services, and had the kids help build the beds’ retaining sides. She was there too as they filled the beds with bagged soil and then did their first planting: wildflower seeds and vegetable seedlings.
But busy as she is, Donna couldn’t serve as TAG’s needed instructor. That person would need to be at the school regularly to work with students enrolled in an actual class. (Since their garden experiences connect with classroom subjects and also qualify as physical education, they receive academic credit.) This position would also require handling many other responsibilities and challenges—above all, incessant plant-consuming invasions by ground squirrels, until effective protective fencing could be put around the beds. We began the search for just the right person willing to take on this challenging assignment.
Very fortunately, when school resumed in the late summer of 2014—a year after TAG’s founding—we secured the volunteer services of Kristine Doty. A lifelong Palisades resident, she came with six years of practical experience in conducting a dynamic garden program at a local elementary school. She fits in well at this offbeat, funds-deficient campus, as she’s adept at improvising—recycling found or donated materials and in spotting bargains when more soil, seeds, tools, and gloves are needed.
Kristine interacts with her students informally and with humor, yet also firmly and decisively whenever that’s needed. Most are Latino and African-American boys from low-income families. Few have ever lived in places with gardens. They relish getting outdoor exercise while improving the campus’s landscaped areas, as they don’t just work in the raised beds. Kristine also has culinary talent, and students help her concoct tasty dishes from the vegetables they’ve grown. TAG is giving them basic skills that may be useful when they seek future jobs, including part-time ones if they go on to community colleges or trade schools taken after graduation. Kristine’s underlying message, though, focuses on instilling a basic work ethic: receptive students realize that future efforts will lead to achievements far beyond what they earlier believed they would have to settle for.
We are very grateful that support for TAG has come so far from several grants and some individual donations, along with some donated services and discounts on materials. Might you consider helping TAG too?