The online student newspaper of Vandegrift High School

Vandegrift Voice

The online student newspaper of Vandegrift High School

Vandegrift Voice

The online student newspaper of Vandegrift High School

Vandegrift Voice

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Archives

Paint, sweat and seeds: Students renovate school garden

Though the clouds in the sky attained a shade of dusty gray, sunny feelings were contagious in the patch of grass occupied by the six students. They’re positioned on a royal blue tarp amongst cinder blocks painted with various designs, boxes full of seeds and bags of dirt. With acrylic colors on their knees and fingers, and Stick Season by Noah Khan blasting from a Bluetooth speaker in the corner, the students are working towards something bigger than themselves: sustainability on school grounds.
Senior Lesley Jum and Junior Abbey O’Brien have worked to renovate the school garden for their Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) competition since early Oct. Employing help from students and donations from the wider Riverplace and Steiner Ranch communities, the two intend to revamp the garden – left deserted since 2020 – with native and adaptive species.
“We knew that we wanted to do something for our community,” O’Brien said. “And then one of the teachers said, ‘Hey, you know there used to be a garden here.’ We had no idea about it.”
Prior to beginning their actual renovation, the pair completed extensive research on their primary topic: native and adaptive species. After compiling their 40 page competition portfolio, detailing facets of their plan as well as general information about their issue, Jum and O’Brien began the renovation process in mid-March.
“We saw the horrible state the garden was in,” Jum said. “We decided this would be a perfect fit for our sustainability project, in which we would be able to compete in FCCLA as well as help the community and our school.
The garden, located next to the bus pick-up area, was initially fit with water collection barrels and various trees, but fell into disrepair over the last four years. For their first steps, Jum and O’Brien took space audits of the land and hosted clean-up sessions with student volunteers in order to clear dead flora.
“My favorite part was watching the garden slowly coming together, from an abandoned grass field with a few plants to vibrant organized planters, each individually hand painted by our community members,” Jum said.
The pair plan to fill the space with three large planters near the left side of the garden, made up of cinder blocks featuring student-created paintings on their sides. The cinder blocks and seeds used for the project were community donations, while the dirt was largely purchased with Home-Depot coupons, which are given out for public service projects.
“As we were doing our research, we got focused on native and adapted plants in Texas,” O’Brien said. “We [realized] this garden would be an amazing way to incorporate that and teach people about how important plants are.”
In order to incorporate native and adaptive plants into their plan, the pair decided to plant native Texas plants, such as Texas Lions, Butterfly Weed, Bluebonnets, Akinesia and Rudbeckia.
“After we finished the research, we started working on how we were going to educate our community,” O’Brien said. “We knew we were going to do the renovation, but we wanted to do something else more focused on students and future generations.”
The specific guidelines for FCCLA’s sustainability challenge included an effort to educate the competitor’s community about their specific sustainability issue. To fulfill this, O’Brien and Jum visited both Riverplace and Steiner Ranch Elementary to bring interactive, educational activities to younger students.
“We had a slideshow, but when talking with kids, just showing them a sideshow obviously isn’t going to impact them. So we did a lot of little activities,” O’Brien said. “We tried to get them as involved as possible.”
Though Jum and O’Brien employed activities such as sustainability-focused bingo, using recycled towels and donated markers, for younger students, they also brought educational lectures to Vandegrift students. The lectures took a more academic approach to teach students about the importance of native and adaptive plants.
“I believe this plan not only educates our community about sustainability in everyday life, [but also brings] them together with a common goal of creating something that will last,” Jum said.
At the regional meet in Corpus Christie in Feb. the pair won first place, but unfortunately did not place in the top five for the state meet on April 11-14 in Dallas. Despite this, Jum and O’Brien are continuing their renovation and plan to finish by the end of April.
“I feel that Abbey and I display that no one is ever too young to make a change in the community,” Jum said. “Although the process was rigorous, with passion, anything can be possible.”

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About the Contributor
Julia Bychowski
Julia Bychowski, Editor
Julia Bychowski is a junior and is so excited to be News Editor on the Voice. Aside from writing, Julia enjoys listening to true crime podcasts, hanging out with her friends, and reading trashy fantasy books. Julia is also a member of Model UN, Debate, UIL Academics, and has been playing the cello for almost five years.  

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