Dave Gorman knows what it takes to grow a garden. As an instructor at the Career Collegiate Institute (CCI) in North Buffalo, he also knows a lot about the out-of-school youth in his classroom and the challenges they face growing up.
The Career Collegiate Institute is a program of Buffalo Public Schools Adult Education Division. It was founded in 2004 to accommodate the WNY population of out-of-school youth, 17 to 21, looking for an alternative to the traditional educational setting.
To support their students’ academic success, CCI instructional staff frequently work alongside them developing skills for dealing with everyday life issues. This past spring, Gorman was asked by school administrators to develop a hands-on curriculum that would teach students how to plant and sustain a community garden on school grounds.
“I was delighted when asked to take on this project at our school. I believe that gardening is one of the most effective, rewarding, and useful forms of ‘therapy’ for anyone,” said Gorman who has worked for many years with people who have been disenfranchised from the opportunities and supports in society that many others take for granted.
CCI’s primary academic focus is on preparing students to take the TASC™ or Test Assessing Secondary Completion exam. The TASC™ replaced the GED® in 2014 as New York State’s official exam for earning a high school equivalency diploma (HSE). Students at CCI attend HSE preparation classes and have access to comprehensive support services that promote student attendance and create a safe and low-stress learning environment.
The community garden project brought together HSE students and CCI’s ENL (English as a New Language) students as volunteers along with staff and individuals from the immediate neighborhood. All have access to the garden’s produce. Area residents have kept the garden watered during school breaks.
Working in the garden has given students a sense of pride, community, and belonging, according to Gorman. They have shared their experiences with other students in the school.
“On any given day you can see students chatting while standing among the flowers or letting their curiosity peek while looking for an elusive squash, eggplant or cucumber. Student volunteers are all delighted at the growth and yield they have seen thus far. For most it has been a very positive and motivating experience.”
Growing up has been tough for many CCI students. A majority come from low income or impoverished households. Several have young families of their own. Many face challenges in life and need a program that supports their work and/or family schedule, their transportation needs, and addresses any other obstacles that threaten to derail their pursuit of education and training.
The community garden project has offered a scaffold to other curricula, particularly in classroom conversations on food and health, stress management, and positive reactions to life. It has also spurred dialog on vocational and secondary education with several students expressing an interest in pursuing jobs in landscaping, horticultural design, small scale gardening, nutrition, marketing, and advertising.
Strong administrative support from BPS Adult Education Division Director Les Leopold and Supervisor Lisa Baines was crucial to the success of the project as were donations from co-workers Jerica DeGlopper, Reggie Gardener, and Allan Sesay. Referring to the project as a “true partnership,” Gorman also expressed appreciation for Grassroots Gardens of WNY and Urban Roots whose guidance and contributions were vital components of the overall operations.
Through its partnership with Erie Community College, CCI also offers a pathway to college by combining classroom instruction with pre-collegiate studies. The school is located at 756 St. Lawrence Avenue in North Buffalo.
Students interested in learning more about the CCI should call (716) 838-7574. More information is also available at Career Collegiate Institute.