The Ashland Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) is sharing the world of conservation and urban agriculture with at-risk students in Ohio through a $44,000 NACD Urban Agriculture Conservation (UAC) grant.
Initially, the grant was secured with the plans to conduct monthly hands-on educational visits to seven Head Start classes this spring, as well as partnering with local FFA chapters to build raised beds for the Head Start centers’ gardens beginning in April. When Ohio closed all public schools and daycares in response to COVID-19, Ashland SWCD switched gears.
The funds helped hire Urban and Education Specialist Becca Vales, who, although hired in the midst of Ohio’s stay-at-home order, hit the ground running with online lessons and social media posts.
Vales developed printed materials for Head Start programs, which the teachers could send to students’ homes every two weeks. This was also supplemented with a “#TeacherTuesday” video series, where students can tune in and follow along with the lessons and programs.
“This is not the way we anticipated launching our grant programming, and the topics we’re covering are not necessarily the same topics we would have covered in the classroom as we prepared to install raised bed gardens,” Ashland SWCD Program Administrator Jane Houin said. “But I feel like we’ve turned lemons into lemonade.”
“We could have thrown our hands up and said, ‘we just can’t do it right now,’ but instead, Becca and the rest of our staff have gone above and beyond to continue to connect with those students and teachers, and the feedback has been fabulous,” Houin said.
Head Start centers in surrounding counties, parents doing home-schooling activities, and teachers in the local and surrounding public schools are all requesting, accessing and sharing the videos, resulting in thousands of hits, she said.
For the tree sale this year, they gave each of the 107 Head Start students an apple tree seedling. The conservation district also distributed an additional 583 seedlings to students and teachers who drove through for Arbor Day, along with a learning packet of information on trees to connect with one of Vales’s April lessons.
Houin said the district plans on moving forward with the initial plans in the fall, and the FFA chapters will still create raised beds. But in the meantime, they are reaching, educating and connecting with more students and people than they ever imagined.
“I really just could not be more proud of our staff and the way they’ve adapted to meet the needs of our community during this challenging time,” Houin said. “We’ve forged stronger relationships with our teachers and community members, and we’ve connected with such a large number of people who now know [about] Ashland SWCD and at least a little bit about what we do, and they know we care about our community and meeting our community needs.”