Maryland Seeds ‘Green Schools’ as Students Eye Future in $1.4 Billion Horticulture Industry

At the end of August, work began in the A + garden center, when horticulture students and volunteers plant pansies for sale at the beginning of the school year. Photo courtesy Jerry Kelley.

It looks a lot like Christmas at Parkside High School in Salisbury, with red and white poinsettias on the tables in the greenhouse and poinsettia flags and Christmas wreaths greeting customers as they plant plants and gift boxes of tea and coffee at the student-run A + Garden Center Pick up honey.

Since opening in 1999, the center has grown into one of the largest schooling companies in the country.

Students do all of the work, from planting to selling to online promotions for more than 100,000 vegetable, herb, poinsettia, and perennial plants.

These sales help sustain business and educational initiatives, particularly Parkside’s horticultural program, which is also supported by community partners who provide resources and in-kind contributions.

The Career & Technical Education Program courses are predominantly female – only one male student was enrolled this calendar year – and an average of around 46 students, two-thirds of whom travel by bus from other public schools in Wicomico County every day.

At the helm of the program is Jerry Kelley, who grew up in his family’s landscaping business in Montgomery County in the 1980s and then worked in the fashion industry as a buyer and manager for several decades. In retirement, he turned to education, taking classes and working as a substitute teacher until his dream job as a horticultural teacher opened at Parkside in 2015.

“It’s a way of giving back,” he said. “Our mission is really just to give students the opportunity to get involved in every aspect of the green industry, the environment, where they are comfortable and where they have a path, where they are passionate.”

Poinsettias on sale, research is ongoing

Poinsettias are sold for the holidays.

Abbie Murphy is collecting data on poinsettias grown at Parkside High A + Garden Center for a research project on how light affects the plants in large containers. Photo by Rosanne Skirble.

Clipboard in hand, Abbie Murphy, a 15-year-old in the program, is checking each one, as she has been doing regularly since September, to collect data on how the plants grown out of plugs behave in different types of light.

She and her partner Reef Ward will present their research results to the FFA, formerly known as Future Farmers of America, in the Spring of 2022 Plant Science Competition.

Murphy said her horticultural class is a welcome change from what she calls “book work” during her school day.

“I really like that you can be outside. I feel like I’m more of myself and just enjoying life more when we’re out here in the greenhouses doing things like that, ”Murphy said.

In 2021, Maryland classmates Allison Tribeck and Zoey Bradley won first place and finished 10th nationally in the FAA competition for their study of mothers. In addition to research, Tribeck has taken on many functions in the A + Center, from cashiers to gardeners to citizen scientists, and has distinguished himself in all of them. The experience made her a better writer and a better student overall, she said.

“In other classes [learning] is about memorizing. Here … it makes your gears spin. It makes you think, ”said Tribeck.

Kelley begins each school year by distributing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, a series of endeavors that the United Nations calls a “blueprint for a better, more sustainable future for all.” He asked students to write a short essay about which of these goals meant most to them.

The students’ reaction reveals their interests, which Kelley then incorporates into the curriculum in assignments and research projects, he said.

Tribeck’s essay examined “Climate Change and How It Affects Food Miles” [transport to market]as well as clean, renewable and affordable energy, ”she said.

Over a period of three years, in either single or double classes, students juggle their required courses for graduation at their home schools with Parkside’s in plant and environmental sciences, landscaping and management. The program concludes with a rigorous exam and certification as a Professional Gardener from the Maryland Nursery, Landscape, and Greenhouse Association. Certification can increase students’ chances of getting jobs in the $ 1.4 billion horticultural industry, according to the trade group.

Kelley said this apprenticeship at Parkside is essentially about environmental literacy that has spread beyond the A + Center and the adjoining classroom.

“The willingness to cooperate is available, [like on] the habitat corridor between the two soccer fields, an off-road project since 2015. ”The students worked together to add a beekeeping facility, beehives, bat houses, birdhouses and aviaries, and hundreds of native plants.

In 2017 the area was certified as a Schoolyard Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation.

Horticultural instructor Jerry Kelley with Salisbury Sustainability Director Alyssa Hastings points out Parkside High School’s wildlife corridor, which has been certified as a Schoolyard Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation. Photo by Rosanne Skirble.

Green School certification

Also in 2017, Parkside became a Green School, certified by the nonprofit Maryland Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education (MAEOE). The group’s mission is closely aligned with the state goals that have made state educational standards and requirements for environmental competence mandatory for more than 40 years.

In 2011, Maryland became the first state in the country to require a high school degree in environmental literacy. The Green School Act of 2019 awarded MAEOE a $ 1.5 million grant that Executive Director Laura Johnson Collard says will help the organization achieve its goal of turning 50% of Maryland’s schools into green schools by 2027 certify.

“We’re at 33%, or 664 Maryland Schools this year,” she said. “Another 340 schools must meet our core objectives of promoting systemic environmental education, student action and community partnerships to achieve this goal,” she adds.

“Our vision is to make all schools in Maryland green schools, that they have environmentally conscious teachers, environmentally conscious students, and a community that understands their impact on the environment, that these children understand its impact, and that they help our state protect the climate climate resilience and preparation, ”said Collard.

Such collective action makes a difference. The latest progress report finds that the 2020-21 school year saved 723,365 pounds of recycled materials, 194,969 gallons of water and 7,350,878 kilowatt hours of energy, all largely from 70 applicants, including 11 new schools during the COVID pandemic.

Students perform, win awards, recognition

Sara-elah Hoffman, a young horticultural student at Parkside, believes public order can have a huge impact.

“I’m actually considering majoring [in college] in environmental policy, because I think it’s the greatest way you can go [environmental] Change is made by government, ”said Hoffman.

The horticultural program also gave her the leadership and confidence to take a job as volunteer manager of the Boundless Community Garden in Salisbury, not an easy job for the 16-year-old who spends several hours a week in the garden Page? ˅.

“We have 16 beds with native plants and flowers and it’s open to the community,” she said.

Her activism caught the attention of Salisbury Mayor Jacob Day and the city’s sustainability director Alyssa Hastings, whom Hoffman brought in to sit on the mayor’s sustainability advisory board. “Youth votes are important,” said Hastings. “They are our future, so it is important that they have a say in the city.”

Hastings brought this message into the classroom, congratulating the A + Garden Center’s Vocational and Technology Education students on their efforts to recycle products, save water, manage nutrients and treat waste.

This earned Center Salisbury’s Green Business certification in 2019, which she tells students has been extended to 2023.

“Sustainable food systems are vital to a sustainable city,” she said. “When people and young people come to our community, know how to grow their own food, know how to produce, whether it’s flowers or agricultural products, it makes a huge contribution to the growth of our local economy, the Growth of our local food industry, and that sustainably. “

Partnerships, the key to success

During this school year, Parkside will update its Green School certification and work with the school’s Green Committee on curriculum and field projects. The horticultural program has already added a rooftop garden, floating wetland and pocket meadows, all of which require a variety of hands-on activities, academic research and partnerships with institutions and neighbors in Salisbury and beyond.

Kelley said that in technical professional education, partnerships, often difficult to maintain, can make the most profound changes, which he documented in his master’s thesis for a degree in education from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.

“Local groups like Salisbury’s Ward Museum, Wicomico Environmental Trust, Lower Land Trust, Wicomico Extension and others are an integral part of what we do, providing role models, resources and expertise for students,” he said.

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