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Off the Street and into the Garden: Shinnyo-en Foundation Supports East Oakland Youth Community Garden and Incubates Future Leaders

An LPS student holds up an egg she collected on the community garden

Despite an unusually hot day in East Oakland, high school students from Leadership Public Schools (LPS) College Park stayed after school late into the afternoon to complete weeding, watering, and painting projects in their quarter-acre community garden, just a few yards from the school building. On Monday, September 27, 2010 students took a break to learn about the Six Billion Paths to Peace philosophy and consider the ways in which their work at the community garden contributes to global peace.

Shinnyo-en Foundation (SEF) staff travelled to East Oakland to meet the 30 students and 2 teachers responsible for collaborating on the Castlemont Community Garden at LPS. Established in 2009, the garden produces a variety of vegetables and fruits, and houses chickens in a coop on the property. Students showcased their work by providing tours of the Garden and answering SEF staff’s questions. When asked why she was interested in participating in the community garden a senior named Maria reflected, “It’s either this or being out on the street.” Many students agreed that the community garden provides a positive contrast to the troublesome alternatives that exist after school in their neighborhood.

The LPS teachers who lead the community garden, Sara Johnson and Coco Mendoza, have observed an encouraging shift in student behavior since the inception of the garden project. Ms. Johson noted that one student in particular had exhibited poor behavior the previous year in her class, but through engagement with the after school program, he is now one of the current student leaders in the garden. Through shared leadership and a supportive atmosphere, students learn that their ideas can come to fruition with enough desire and careful planning.

As the Shinnyo-en Foundation staff turned to leave the garden, CEO Haru Inouye made a promise to supply enough fish and a pump for a pond project that one student designed. “What if I made that dream come true?” Mr. Inouye asked the students. Students cheered, shared peace signs, and shared their gratitude with the SEF staff for their contribution and visit.    

LPS College Park is a tuition-free public charter high school dedicated to preparing 100% of graduating students for success in college and leadership in their communities. They offer education to high school students seeking a small and safe school environment geared towards college preparation. The Oakland campus opened in 2005 with its first freshman class.

For more information on the Castlemont Community Garden, please visit http://unitedcrc.org/Green_Pioneers.html For more information on LPS College Park, visit www.leadps.org.