Youth learn from hands-on garden programWritten by Kristen Criswell | | email@example.com
Editor’s Note: Toledo Free Press, United Way of Greater Toledo and 13abc’s “Bridges” with Doni Miller are profiling 12 education initiative programs in Northwest Ohio. This is the eighth story in the series.
A partnership between the Toledo Botanical Garden and the Lucas County Juvenile Justice System’s programs helps youth learn skills they’ll need for a successful future.
Toledo GROWs together with Community Integration for Training and Employment (CITE) connects youth with positive mentors while they learn valuable job skills and help the community.
The program’s entrance is based on court referral, as well as an interview process. Those in the job readiness program must also have a stable place to live, practice a drug-free lifestyle and proceed with an education plan.
The partnership began in 2001 and expanded in September 2009 to include a new re-entry program.
The goal of the programs are for those enrolled to find jobs in the community so they can take care of themselves and not end up in the “revolving door” of the adult justice system, said Charlie Johnson, director of the CITE program.
“We help kids identify their natural abilities so they can develop them further,” Johnson said. “We’re not going to take them in 16 weeks from no skills to a technical job or semi-skill job level. We want them to begin to understand what their abilities are and for them to develop a curiosity and interest in improving themselves.”
Both CITE and the new re-entry program focus on similar things, but the re-entry program is aimed at higher level offenders who have just been released from incarceration. The regular CITE program deals with those on probation, Johnson said.
Other differences between the two are the average age of individuals in the program and their length of time within the program.
The regular CITE program has younger kids, with the average age being 16 years old, and they’re in the program for 10 weeks. While in the re-entry program, the typical age of individuals enrolled is 17 to 18 years old and their program is 16 weeks.
Eric Jones said his future has gotten better because of the Toledo GROWs/CITE re-entry program.
“I never thought I’d be doing anything like this. They certainly don’t teach you any of these things in school,” he said. “Working with my peers and the job training coaches teaches you a lot; from responsibility to coming to work on time, just taking steps toward being a responsible man in life.”
After attending the re-entry program, Jones was hired in January as a junior leader. In addition, the 18-year-old is attending Owens Community College where he is studying social work.
Jones said he’d like to start a similar program for youth after he retires, because the experience is beneficial.
Kids in the partnership programs work at different Toledo GROWs sites which provide them with experiential learning, said Michael Szuberla, Toledo GROWs manager.
“Usually in the classroom you only use a pencil. Your hands get a lot more dirty here,” Jones said.
Those within the programs have helped build a greenhouse, chicken coops, picnic tables and a self-contained aquatic ecosystem.
The youth also learn responsibility through taking care of chickens, genetics from breeding rabbits and complex systems from maintaining bee hives, Szuberla said.
The setup of the programs allows the students to learn from their mistakes, as no grades are given out. However, students are evaluated every two weeks on a checklist of skills by their job trainer to help measure progress.
“Knowing how to use a tape measure involves exact measurement, mathematical formulas, fractions, addition and multiplication, all the basic kinds of math…If you’re building a chicken coop and it’s an inch and a half off you’re going to see that right away. It’s going to be a visual and for some of the kids that is the best way they learn,” Johnson said.
Szuberla said one day after a certified electrician came to help the students install lighting in a chicken coop, one student told him it was time for him to learn algebra.
“In the classroom this seems detached and irrelevant to the kids,” he said. “[Here they see] if you want to be an electrician, you have to know math; a plumber, math; a gardener, chemistry. Suddenly when the kids get goals and plans and can see themselves three years down the road doing a particular career, they are going to be willing to do the learning.”
Students learn not only integrated math skills and to use different tools through the programs, but more importantly they learn how to show up on time, work in a team and follow directions, Johnson said.
“You can talk to kids about getting a job and what it takes to get a job. You can teach them how to fill out a resume and do mock interviews. Getting up at 6 a.m. so you can be on the job site at 7:30 or 8 is a skill that won’t be learned in the classroom,” Johnson said.
In addition to helping youth, the Toledo GROWs/CITE program and re-entry program are cost-effective. Those enrolled in the program work roughly 20 hours a week for minimum wage. For the16 week re-entry program the cost is roughly $4,600 a youth, Szuberla said.
It costs $60,000 to incarcerate a juvenile for one year.
“It’s very cheap compared to the alternative where the community has a really high price tag,” he said. “Plus, it’s a job for the kids. They get a check from the Botanical Garden and they’re building up their resume. It’s really huge for them to be able to put three contacts down that aren’t related to them.”
Funding for the collaboration comes from grants, private donations and earned income from products grown or constructed.
Toledo GROWs/CITE plan on building a training center near its greenhouse to expand its joint programs. The center would be constructed by the students with assistance from some professionals. The estimated cost for the project is roughly $225,000, Szuberla said.
It’s too soon to judge the success of the re-entry program since it’s only had two complete groups, Johnson said. However, the program has had some unsuccessful students mostly because the kids didn’t show up or make a commitment to the program, he said.
“We really never fire anybody, they fire us. They quit on themselves, we don’t quit on them,” Johnson said.
Some of those who’ve quit the re-entry program have come back and utilized other CITE services.
“Part of the issue is timing. A kid when he’s 17 may not be ready, but when he’s 17-and-a half or 18 he might be more ready,” Johnson said.