Dusty chemistry sets and old lab tables are about to make way for a new community garden thanks to the efforts of two dedicated Williamsburg Prep teachers and their enthusiastic students.
Williamsburg native and Prep science teacher Juliet Crupi had little outdoors experience before participating in a 2012 research project at Grand Teton National Park. While studying the effect of real estate development on songbird migration, and advising developers, based on her findings, where to build, it occurred to her that she could more effectively teach her students by showing them how their lessons directly impact their community. Partnering with fellow Prep science teacher Jessica McClish, she created a Leaders for Sustainability club at the high school.
Initially eight students joined the club; Crupi and McClish started them off with a paper recycling project. When asked to choose their next project, to the surprise of their teachers, and the delight of their fellow students, the members requested gardening. By year’s end, more than 40 students had joined, participating in the recycling program, school garden and a tree stewardship certification program.
That success wasn’t lost on Prep Principal Mike Shadrick, who recognizing the effectiveness of the program, agreed to convert the club into an Urban Farming class for the 2013-14 school year.
For Crupi however, that meant learning about gardening, an area in which she had virtually no experience – quickly. She began researching programs, government entities and anything she could find related to gardening and education. Along the way, she developed a partnership with NY Sun Works, a non-profit, who through a grant from Two Trees will install a hydroponic indoor garden in a hardly used Prep storeroom, beginning in October. Produce such as tomatoes, peppers and collard greens, as well as herbs, will be grown indoors, then transferred to an outdoor garden, which the students will build and maintain throughout the year.
By the end of the year, Crupi said, the goal is to develop and implement the gardening project around community need. As part of the learning process, the students must identify for whom in the community they should grow the food.
Crupi’s success hasn’t gone unnoticed by others, either. This past summer, two of her students were among 150 invited to attend the Student Congress for Climate Change and Conservation with the Green Schools Alliance in Washington, D.C., where Crupi served on faculty, helping the students develop conservation efforts in their communities. And on Wednesday, September 18th, six club members were selected to meet legendary conservationist Jane Goodall as part of the United Nation’s Celebration of Peace.