At the back of the Petaluma Junior High Campus, in a set of corner classrooms, is Crossroads Community Day School, a school for seventh, eighth, and ninth grade students whose needs have not been effectively met by comprehensive schools in Petaluma. These students are misunderstood by many but Crossroads teachers Karen Kesseru and Mike Watt see the truth, that these youth are capable of making great, positive change in the world around them.
Kesseru and Watt are entering their second year in the Watershed Classroom with their project Each One Matters. In collaboration with Daily Acts and the School Garden Network of Sonoma County, they are creating a garden of native plants and flowers on their campus.
The Garden at the Crossroads
“Sometimes teachers have to put aside the conventional classroom activities and venture into the unknown.” -Karen Kessuru
When asked what inspired the team to build a garden with students, Watt said, “I think part of our inspiration was to bring the students closer to Earth, trying to get their hands in the dirt and create some intrinsic value. We also saw a value in inspiring them to improve the look of our campus.”
Kesseru explained that not all students were on board with their teachers’ vision. She said, “Some, not all, loved working outside and smiled as they worked. Some actually refused and saw it as forced labor.”
Despite an initial lack of enthusiasm from some however, students were able to build something truly beautiful. Not only is their garden lovely to look at, it also contributes to the health of the campus and watershed. Its design supports rainwater drainage, reducing campus flooding and stormwater pollution.
Watt says, “I would say their big take away could be that with some effort and sweat they can make a difference not only in the appearance of the campus, but of the environment as a whole and they received mucho [sic] praise for their effort from the surrounding community, which our students do not receive very often.”
To anyone thinking of undertaking a similar project, Watt had this to say “See what we did? You can do it too!”
This year, they plan to expand the garden even further, and Kessuru says that students are stepping up and getting excited to begin work again, even those among them who once refused to take part.