Planting their future: Students grow in agriscience program

Photo by Andrea Poteet

Students from Roosevelt High School’s summer agriscience program, Rebecca Zasandry (left), Sara Hopper, Kyra Burns, and Tracy Shuryan weed the vegetable garden they planted near the school’s football field. The program also includes a fish crop, greenhouse and maintenance of the Eureka viaduct.

Sunday Times Newspapers

WYANDOTTE — While many of her peers are sleeping in or hitting the beach this summer, Roosevelt High School Senior Kyra Burns is getting up by 7 a.m. to spend her days planting crops.

For Burns and the 15 other members of the RHS summer agriscience program, the hard work they put in– including maintaining the Eureka viaduct, a greenhouse, a crop of 70 tilapia and a garden near the school’s football field– is all worth it when they see the community response to their work.

Burns, one of the handful of students assigned to tend the garden, said she loves hearing residents talk about the improvement in the patch of land, which was formerly occupied by weeds and chunks of rock.

“It’s really cool that people come up and tell us it looks better than it did because it used to be a rock bed,” Burns said.

The garden now contains dozens of crops including tomatoes, beans, herbs, and an array of peppers and chillies. When it is harvested, the students sell the produce at the Wyandotte Farmer’s Market, at First and Elm, Thursdays from noon to 6 p.m.

Selling the produce is an integral part of the program, said Bob Johnson, who retired as the school’s agriscience teacher two years ago, but kept on to help with the summer program, an extension of the curriculum taught by agriscience teacher Kelly MacGregor.

“They see school as something other than just books,” Johnson said. “They are practicing business.”

Proceeds from the vegetable sales go back into funding the program. The Wyandotte Downtown Development Authority also assists, helping to provide stipends for the students. Local businesses also provide wood chips for students to use on the soil along the viaduct. Volunteers from the community and members of the Wyandotte Garden club also pitch in with the labor.

RHS softball coach Jackie Jagiello, who also oversees the program, said the students take ownership of the details, making their own schedules and setting their own prices for the produce. When the 70 tilapia reach adulthood, the students will also decide whether to sell or eat them.

“I like the fact that they start a job and they are moaning and groaning but they take ownership over it,” Jagiello said. “They start seeing the change in the viaduct and they want to fix it. They are really proud of what they do.”

Johnson said the students also have learned a respect for road crews and work release participants, as they don the same bright orange vests – and sometimes receive the same ribbing from passersby. He also said that while vandalizing bridges and other structures may be in vogue for some teens, the students in the program are fiercely protective of the area.

“If anyone starts to mess with it, we get a call from them immediately,” he said.

RHS Junior Tracy Shuryan, 15, said the program has taught her hands-on lessons about agriculture that she couldn’t have learned anywhere else. She said she has also learned people skills, among other lessons.

“If you take care of the garden, the garden will take care of you,” Shuryan said. “It will give you really good food.”