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April 30, 2019

Garden Vines: Nourishing Young Minds, Feeding a Community

On the surface, it looks like a gardening program. But as the roots spread to involve 680 Adelphi student volunteers to date and nearly 1,200 first- through fifth-grade students at Jackson Main School and Barack Obama Elementary School, both in Hempstead, what’s really being cultivated is a hands-on learning experience that is helping feed a community in need.

The program is the nonprofit Garden Vines S.E.E.D.S. (Schools Engaging the Entire Development of Students) Program, a collaborative started in 2016 by Cynthia Proscia, M.A. ’92, clinical assistant professor in the Department of Health and Sport Sciences, and Sharla-Renee Hart ’09, M.A. ’14, a senior financial aid administrator in the Office of Student Financial Services. They work in partnership with Reigning In Life Training Center, a faith-based, not-for-profit organization in the Village of Hempstead.

Through the program, the elementary school students plant vegetable seeds, transplant seedlings and then care for the plants through the school year in raised outdoor beds donated by Mayfair Construction. Proscia said she maintains them during the summer with the help of the summer academy students at either Jackson Main School or Barack Obama Elementary School and volunteers from the community. Last month, the students planted late-producing garden foods like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, eggplant, kale, kohlrabi, peas, radishes and string beans, which they will harvest when they return in the fall.

All the food goes back into the community. In the fall of 2018, they were able to donate 240 pounds of food to families in the Hempstead Union Free School District and local food pantries. During harvest season, Garden Vines sets up a weekly food stand at the elementary schools for the families to take what they need, and whatever is left over is donated to Meals on Wheels and the Interfaith Nutrition Network.

When Proscia realized that the elementary school teachers needed more support to bring the program into their classrooms, she reached out to Adelphi’s Department of Health and Sport Sciences for help. As a result, starting in September, she and four other Adelphi faculty members will co-teach with the teachers at both Jackson Main School and Barack Obama Elementary School using the gardens as the classroom. Professors will offer bilingual education, literacy and emergent reading support, and science and engineering methods, while Proscia covers health.

“It will also be an opportunity for preservice teachers in the College of Education and Health Sciences to get the clinical hours they need while working with the children,” she said.

Garden Vines also gets plenty of help from Adelphi students, most recently from about 35 fraternity and sorority members who turned compost in the gardens and planted seeds with their junior-gardener counterparts. Panther teams frequently come out to offload topsoil, and art students have painted murals in the gardens.

Tiffany Dethwick ’18 is a volunteer who has been working with Garden Vines monthly for two years. She said she learned about the program when she was a student in Proscia’s Youth and Violence class. What drove her to volunteer was her professor’s passion for the program, she said. What keeps her volunteering a year after graduation is the positive effect on the children.

“You could tell that the students are really impacted by this organization. Just seeing their faces and the joy that it brings to them is what keeps me going back for more,” Dethwick said. “I feel like I’m really having an impact on the community.”

As for the children, whether they’re tasting new vegetables for the first time or watching a plant they have been caring for grow, Christopher Berry, Ed.D., a special education teacher at Jackson Main School, said their excitement about the experience is transforming.

“To me this initiative is groundbreaking because it’s a college reaching out to the local community, connecting different resources from different aspects of life around a focal point,” said Dr. Berry, who has worked with Garden Vines for three years by helping to coordinate activities. “The experience touches on their physical, emotional and social development. What Garden Vines has done for us is to really enrich the whole child.”


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Adelphi University, New York, is a highly awarded, nationally ranked, powerfully connected doctoral research university dedicated to transforming students’ lives through small classes with world-class faculty, hands-on learning and innovative ways to support academic and career success. Adelphi offers exceptional liberal arts and sciences programs and professional training, with particular strength in our Core Four—Arts and Humanities, STEM and Social Sciences, the Business and Education Professions, and Health and Wellness.

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