Philadelphia’s Austin Meehan Middle School students have a brighter, healthier future thanks to the benevolence of 53 volunteers, including school staff, CSX employees and Pennsylvania Horticulture Society members.
In partnership with Action for Healthy Kids Sept. 12-13, they planted a fruit orchard, including 10 blueberry trees, a garden bed apiece of raspberries and strawberries, and pairs of apple, cherry, fig, pear, persimmon and pawpaw trees.
“Our vision is to promote and teach sustainability of organic, natural produce by growing it here,” said Seth Feit, AMMS health and physical education teacher for three years. “This project promotes ownership and pride in the school, and teaches life-long lessons about food and gardening.”
Students will tend to the garden beds and Pennsylvania Horticulture Society members will weed and water the orchard weekly for two years. After harvest, students will enjoy food parties.
“People need to grow their own produce so we can eat healthier and be healthier,” said Sue Newnam, AMMS health and physical education teacher for 13 years.
Volunteers also painted two large wall murals in the school cafeteria.
“This school is a second home to these students and this beautification builds pride,” Newnam said. “It is all about youth, the school and the community. We are trying to build a better rapport with our community. We are all one family.”
CSX and Action for Healthy Kids also donated physical education equipment.
“Physical education equipment is a great need,” said Mary Jackson, AMMS principal for 14 years. “Health and physical education classes promote healthy living and the orchard and health-related mural promote common core standards, including math and science.” The project, she said, made a noticeable impact from Day 1, when a seventh grader expressed the desire to plant a tree at home and a teacher thanked her because her students wouldn’t quit talking about it.
The school serves approximately 590 seventh- and eighth-grade students, 28 percent with special needs.
“We are devoted to building partnerships with our many neighbors,” said Bill Goetz, CSX local resident vice president for state government and community affairs. “Together, we can accomplish a lot with time, effort and funding.”