High-school-garden-is-stage-for-talk-on-nutrition-finances-leadership

High school garden is stage for talk on nutrition, finances, leadership

Working with teenagers in a garden is new territory for Casey Derbes. But developing lesson plans and seeing the students take ownership of their work has made her internship with Sankofa Community Development Corporation a rewarding one.

Derbes, a Tulane public health graduate student, is helping Sankofa develop its Health Education and Leadership Project, which began in fall 2011. The project employs 25 sophomore students from KIPP Renaissance High School, where Sankofa's community garden has been since 2010. Sankofa hired Derbes through the Tulane Prevention Research Center's (PRC) fall 2011 practicum program, which connects graduate students to community organizations, government agencies and other public-health groups for a 300-hour internship.

"It's been very helpful for us as a small organization developing these programs, to have (graduate) students," said Rashida Ferdinand, executive director of Sankofa, an organization based in New Orleans’ Upper and Lower Ninth Ward focused on empowering residents with information about healthy local foods and stimulating economic activity.

Sankofa’s high school students not only work at the community garden, but they also sell the produce and flowers, lead cooking demonstrations and create healthy eating education materials for display during Sankofa's weekly farmers markets.

"They take so much pride in what they're growing," Derbes said. "I'm so proud of what's happening. It's coming together so perfectly," Derbes said.

The project Derbes is coordinating consists of roughly two dozen classes set in either the garden, a classroom, the market or at other sites, such as Xavier University. Discussion about nutrition, financial literacy and leadership are intentionally woven into the classes and garden days, Derbes said. But there's always room for changes if the students are showing interest in other topics, such as neighborhood safety. In addition to designing the classes, Derbes is also helping coordinate the evaluation of the program.

"I really enjoyed using my education in a practical way," Derbes said, pointing out how classes, especially those that covered program planning, gave her a solid foundation for her work at Sankofa.

Building upon that foundation, Derbes said she's been able to learn how to use resources that are already available and tap into community partners' strengths and expertise.

"I think she's a great fit for this program," Ferdinand said. "You really have to have a level of patience and care and energy to work with students."

By Naomi King, Tulane PRC

(Photo courtesy of Casey Derbes/Sankofa Community Development Corporation: KIPP Renaissance High School students and Tulane PRC practicum intern Casey Derbes work in the school’s community garden in January.)

Topics:   diet , nutrition , agriculture , youth engagement

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