Phoenix, Arizona,
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A Garden of Opportunity: Transforming Students into Service Leaders

School shares method for Good Neighbor success

How do I get them excited about getting involved?

When motivating young people to volunteer, it’s a common question. Especially in a virtual world where communicating with thumbs is a growing norm.

But Principal Adam Sharp of Reyes Maria Ruiz Leadership Academy in Phoenix, Arizona, doesn’t mind the thumbs. Especially if they’re green thumbs. “Every school has a niche,” said Sharp. “Whether it’s sports or arts, ours is servant leadership. Look outside and you’ll see – we’re cultivating a new culture.”Student at Reyes Maria Ruiz Leadership Academy holding a plant.

On the grounds of the school, there’s a lush garden in bloom. It’s a project made possible after Principal Sharp received a State FarmTM Good Neighbor Impact Schools Grant through Youth Service America (YSA).

“I applied for the Good Neighbor grant because I wanted a strong curriculum for doing service projects. When we get students out of the classroom and contributing to a greater good, they’re learning through doing,” said Sharp.

The idea to create a garden sprouted a few years ago. With planning and care, it quickly blossomed.

“YSA had a plan and a program for us to implement this,” Sharp said. “As a Title 1 school, many of our students are on free and reduced lunch. We wanted to focus on helping others while promoting a healthy lifestyle.”

As the garden grew, so did opportunities to serve.

“We have a garden club that’s learning to grow and cultivate food from seed to table,” said Sharp. “Students are harvesting vegetables – including some they’ve never eaten. We also have a green house. This way we can keep growing crops – even in the winter.”

Jorge Sandoval is a service-learning teacher. For him, the community garden is part of a larger conversation.

“When we think about food, we also think about hunger and homelessness,” Sandoval explained. “Many of the students have seen homeless on the streets, on the highway. In class we explore statistics, we talk about the causes and solutions. This garden is one way we can give back as servant leaders.”Principal Adam Sharp and a student watering plants.

Student Monica Garcia sums up servant leadership like this: “It’s teaching me to be kind and to think about others instead of myself.”

The 10-year-old is often in the community garden, caring for plants and volunteering to deliver food to families in need.

“It’s about sharing, and keeping people healthy” said Monica. “I understand this now.”

In honor of Global Youth Service Day (April 21-23), Reyes Maria Ruiz Leadership Academy students are giving back by volunteering at a local food bank. They’re also working with the community to plant flowers and bushes that attract butterflies, birds and bees to the school garden. This increases pollination and crop growth.

"Thanks to YSA and State Farm, we've been able to turn an idea into action," said Sharp. "Students aren't just seeing results, they're creating them. Any school can do this. It's about fostering an attitude and ability to serve."

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