by Kyle Jeter
Amy Wagenfeld, Affil. ASLA, Children’s Outdoor Environments Professional Practice Network Co-Communications Director, and Naomi A. Sachs, PhD, ASLA, EDAC, are humbled and grateful to share Kyle Jeter’s story with you.
It was January, 2016. As the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Principal and I watched the heavy machinery level the last of the dilapidated portable classrooms, an idea flitted across my mind. On a whim, I asked if a portion of the land being cleared might be set aside for science/STEM purposes—perhaps a garden? After considering the proposal for a few days, Mr. Thompson generously offered the Science Department an elongated strip of land adjacent to the tennis courts. Not expecting to receive such a large tract (~ 9,000 sq. ft.), I began to sketch out the basic layout of what would become “Marjory’s Garden.”
The environmentalist Marjory Stoneman Douglas was 100 years old when her namesake school opened its doors in 1990 (she lived to be 108!) in Parkland, FL. Her influential book, The Everglades: River of Grass, established her as a champion of the Everglades. Accordingly, science teachers such as Tammy Orilio wanted to ensure from the start that the Garden reflected Stoneman’s values. We also wanted the Garden to be a place of learning. In May of 2016, the Parent Teacher Association voted to give us $1,000 to get the project off the ground, and the Marjory’s Garden project took its first, tentative steps.
Allow me to confess, at that time, I knew absolutely nothing about gardening! The last time I had planted anything was the tree sapling I brought home on Arbor Day in the 5th grade. I am, however, a believer in adopting a growth mindset and this presented a challenge on a much larger scale than anything else I had ever attempted. I am also a major proponent of project-based learning. My colleagues Mr. Sean Simpson (chemistry), Mr. Frank Krar (math), and I had been conducting a high-altitude balloon project, Project Aquila, since 2010, and had witnessed the positive benefits to our students of hands-on learning. We made it a priority to allow students a high degree of freedom in decision-making, and we put digital and physical tools in their hands, and under their control, as often as possible. This created an enormous degree of buy-in on their part and that, to me, is what makes that project successful year after year. We agreed that the Garden would operate under those same norms.