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County: Hampden

Town: Feeding Hills

Mrs. Sandra Johnson is an outstanding educator and community leader at Agawam Junior High School. She is constantly looking for ways to increase student involvement and learning, both in and out of the classroom. This year, she organized, developed and created a community garden, campus beautification and outdoor classroom project that encompasses many aspects and includes multiple phases of implementation. She worked collaboratively with the Agawam Cultural Council to present the project and receive funding to begin implementing each phase. The first phase that has been completed was a campus beautification and community garden project. She was able to obtain 9 planter boxes that have been adopted by each core academic team in the junior high school to grow various types of food and vegetation. In addition, Mrs. Johnson helped redesign the area to provide a walking path, seating and tables for students and the community to enjoy both during the school day and after school hours.
The long range goal is to create a Farmer’s Market where local farmers will sell their items along side the student grown items. Sale proceeds will then be used to sustain future crops to maintain the project for successive years. During the first year of implementation, our special education and science classes, approximately 50 students, have adopted these planting boxes and have grown a variety of crops – spices, pumpkins, squash, and flowers and are expanding the number and variety of species to be planted each season. In addition, Mrs. Johnson has worked with Agawam Junior High School’s School Improvement Council to gain community support for the project and has also reached out to local farmers and businesses to work on creating the Farmer’s Market. The next phase of implementation is creating an outdoor classroom and greenhouse for the students. Mrs. Johnson has contacted local farmers to research the best design for a greenhouse and is working with the Agawam Conservation Committee to secure funding and support. The goal will be to not only grow vegetation in the greenhouse but to use this as a classroom for science classes to use as a working laboratory. Students will use the outdoor classroom space to learn about renewable energy sources (i.e. using the sun’s energy to grow vegetation throughout the year, even in winter months) as well as how to recycle items and seeds from previous crops to replant for future planting seasons.

The program can easily be implemented at other schools within the town and it is AJHS’s hope that we can vertically align our efforts PK – 12 so that students are exposed to not only the educational value of planting and growing vegetation but also understand the connection with our local farming community and the need for sustainable energy and food sources. Students have taken great pride in the project as well as the campus beautification project which helps them take ownership and care for their campus community. Many students who had not previously been given opportunities to be involved in school have taken on leadership roles in the project and have helped others in the effort to create and develop relationships in our community and with local business owners and farmers.
Without Mrs. Johnson’s passion, enthusiasm and dedication, AJHS would not have been able to develop such a unifying and enriching project that is beginning to reap the rewards of its intended purpose.

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