Donna ISD takes advantage of grant with gardening workshop

Administrators at the Donna School District’s Disciplinary Alternative Education Program, or DAEP, are always looking for new ideas outside of the school’s traditionally high-structured environment to help motivate students.

Their latest undertaking is gardening. In an effort to prepare their teachers for this new initiative, the school partnered with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and hosted a Gardening Workshop on Tuesdaym Jan. 7. The school’s Principal Juan Mendoza said it was important to him to invite educators from other Rio Grande Valley school district alternative programs so they can also learn other ways to make teaching interesting. Weslaco, McAllen, Edcouch Elsa and Sharyland school districts were also represented at the workshop.

“We want our students to know that when they’re at a DAEP center, we don’t give up on them,” Mendoza said. “We want to plant a seed and help them find something that they may enjoy. Gardening can get them interested in the science or math areas. So when they go back to their home campuses, they can start to feel that they can contribute to their own school in a different way instead of getting in trouble. That’s the idea behind this project. Hopefully, we’ll continue to collaborate with DAEPs across the Valley and share ideas so that we can better serve our students.”

The Gardening Workshop was made possible through a grant Donna’s DAEP received from the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission (THGC). This year, THGC offered 10 grants of $1,000 to educational institutions to fund projects that promote students taking responsibility and becoming better citizens.

DAEP’s social studies teacher Jonathon Figueroa, who submitted the grant proposal for consideration, was excited to learn that his campus was granted funding.

“The staff talked about new ideas and the project of gardening was brought up,” Figueroa said. “We said, ‘Why not teach our students gardening, sustainability and reusability skills and connect this learning to our curriculum.’ Luckily, this community involvement grant came up and now we’re going to be able to offer this opportunity to our students.”

Figueroa said while students attending DAEP are there for disciplinary reasons, they need to know that they are valued.

“We care about our students,” Figueroa said. “We’re not just here to teach them the ABCs and the 123s; we’re actually here for them. We want them to realize that school is not as bad as they think. A lot of our students don’t want to go to school, but a project like gardening shows them that it can be fun and interesting.”

Texas A&M AgriLife Community Garden Organizer Ricardo Carranza said students could even see the fruits of their labor end up in their cafeteria and eventually on their plates.

“Who knows, maybe one day the cafeteria staff here will prepare salads or vegetable soups from their own gardens and the students will say, ‘I did this, I was part of this.’ You’ll be surprised how much they will put into this project, so it’s definitely worthwhile.”