Students at Neosho’s Jefferson Street campus have been learning academic and social lessons using fruits, vegetables and flowers.

Ryan Sheffield, an English and health teacher at the school, is overseeing the campus’ 700-square-foot community garden, a project that was started at the school in February.

Sheffield said the project was made possible by grants from 4-H and the Neosho Charitable Foundation.

He noted that other teachers have been able to take advantage of the garden as well, with the teachers using it for lessons in areas such as math, biology and history.

“I think it’s good for kids, especially our at-risk kids, to have something in addition to academic bookwork they’re doing everyday in class, to have something they can put their hands on, a long-term project they can see results in,” Sheffield said.

As a math lesson, students plotted the garden. They took measurements of the garden space, figured out how many rows were needed and how far apart plants and seedlings should be planted.

History lessons included looking at victory gardens from World War II, while biology class included studying photosynthesis and germination of seeds. Students also read some of “A Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson and followed with a discussion of organic farming versus the use of pesticides and herbicides.

Sheffield said the garden has also helped with teaching life skills, including teamwork and patience, and is also being utilized in his cooking class.

Sheffield said the project has been a good tool to teach the students to collaborate, with them coming together to create the plan for the garden.

Once the plans were created, he said the group had to agree on one of the 12 plan options. Sheffield said because the school doesn’t have a greenhouse, the growing process began in his classroom, where he set up a hot house on the stage.

“That generated a lot of curiosity,” Sheffield said. “Then, for initially getting started, there was a lot of labor because our plot out here was fill rock for the most part.”

He and his students worked to ready the ground, breaking and hauling the rock. Sheffield said he was initially worried that the labor would deter the students from gardening in the future.

However, he said students have seemed to respond well to the garden project.

“They’re in it every day,” Sheffield said. “Kids take vegetables home, they ask tons of questions about ‘what is this, what is this?’ and some have come back and said ‘hey, I made fajitas with the peppers I took home last night.’ That’s pretty cool.”

The garden includes a wide variety of items, such as tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, dill, okra, eggplant, watermelon, gourds, marigolds for bug control, sunflowers, radishes and green beans, among other items.

Sheffield said another benefit of the community garden project is that it has exposed the students to more healthy options.

Debbie Roach, Jefferson Street Campus director, said the garden has given the students a chance to give to the community as well.

She said the school has invited neighbors to pick items from their community garden, and has also used the fresh produce to serve meals at their monthly dinners.

“We have a monthly Club 115 where students invite their families in to eat a family dinner that’s hosted by some community group once a month,” Roach said. “Some of the vegetables are served during our Club 115. It’s just giving the students a sense of pride in their labor and giving back and having something to show for it.”

Sheffield said the community events, such as Club 115 dinners, also give the students a chance to interact with positive community role models and to give outsiders a glimpse at what goes on at the school.

Roach said the community garden project has been made possible because of Sheffield’s hard work, and noted it’s just one of several projects he has helped offer to students.

“Mr. Sheffield has stepped up and done all the labor, the planting, the weeding, the upkeeping, the watering, the harvesting, the sharing and the pickling and canning that came with it,” Roach said. “He is a huge asset to the school.”

In addition to the community garden, Sheffield and his students also worked last semester to convert a vacant space on the third floor into an in-school store, offering needed items such as deodorant and clothing to students.

He said he and his physical education class textured the walls, and painted the trim and walls before moving the store in.

The Jefferson Street Campus serves students in grades 9 through 12, who have been identified as at risk of not graduating from high school.

The school currently has 45 students enrolled.