West Side students harvesting STEM know-how, with side of veggies, in GEAR UP program – Chicago Tribune

Gary West Side Leadership Academy students celebrated a fall bounty Thursday that went beyond tomatoes and beans.

The students, who are part of one of nine Indiana GEAR UP programs, watched the unveiling of a new greenhouse next to 10 raised beds on the school’s west side.

Nearby, hamburgers simmered on a grill along with other snacks for students to enjoy.

Steve Heinold, associate director of school programs for GEAR UP, said it’s been planning a gardening project since 2018 as part of a joint endeavor with the Purdue Extension service and the Shirley Heinze Land Trust.

“Our goal is to use the greenhouse and garden to expand into the curriculum,” he said. The $4,000 greenhouse arrived in a kit that students helped assemble, he said.

Last spring, students also built the raised beds behind the school near the entry to the stadium and filled them with dirt before planting vegetables.

“We want to take every opportunity we can to expose students to STEM careers,” said Kerchell Hobson, director of secondary curriculum in Gary. “This is science,” she said of the greenhouse.

Before he graduated in June, Clarence Grier said he helped launch the garden. “We put the wood together and filled in the dirt,” he said.

“Students decided what they wanted to plant,” said Grier who’s been part of GEAR UP since 9th grade.

Seniors Anthony Parker and Jazlyn Muniz, both 17, watered a bed of collard greens that will be eventually donated for a Thanksgiving food giveaway.

“It’s a good learning experience. I’m thinking of making my own mini garden,” said Muniz.

GEAR UP is not a short-term approach.

Beginning in middle school, it tracks students at nine school districts in the classes of 2022 and 2023. Those 7,000 students gain college and career readiness support until they graduate and enter postsecondary schools.

Grier said he plans to enroll at the Purdue Polytechnic Institute on the Subaru manufacturing campus in Lafayette.

Indiana’s GEAR UP, and acronym for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, is led by a Purdue University staff and the Indiana Commission on Higher Education.

Anita Johnson, a GEAR UP regional director, pulls a tarp off a new greenhouse at the Gary West Side Leadership Academy Thursday.

The $24.5 million project is financed by the US Department of Education, said Heinold who said GEAR Up will start another cohort soon in Gary’s two middle schools.

Lynda Bodie-Fernandez, a program assistant with the Purdue Extension service in Lake County, coordinated the garden project that included blonde bush cucumbers, bush green beans, purple basil, lemon balm, mint, tomatoes, collards and peppers. She said students selected the plants from a seed catalog.

She said the garden will double in size next year as students starts seeds in pots in their new greenhouse, enabling them to study horticulture first-hand year-round.

Senior Joseph Coburn, 17, joined the GEAR UP program in 7th grade. He liked the opportunities and after-school tutoring and has a new-found love of gardening.

“It’s a great idea. I’ve been working on a garden at home for years. It’s good to learn how to plant the vegetables. I’ll definitely continue to garden,” said Coburn who’s eyeing a major in hospitality management at Purdue.

Carole Carlson is a freelance reporter for the Post-Tribune.

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