The U School explored creating alternative pathways for high school seniors, and in 2019 made a commitment to considering how to bring some sort of agriculture CTE program to the U School. Over the course of many months, the first one-year CTE program in the state (country?) was outlined and then approved and then staffed. This intensive urban agriculture, food and natural resources program offers 12th graders an opportunity to form a team and work in large chunks of time – 25 hours per week – 4 hours most days – working through a range of competencies that were created with input from the founding teacher (Anna) and approved by the state department of Education and the Philadelphia School district and which focus on environmental justice, food security, urban agriculture, community asset mapping and urban environmentalism. This is the description from the student facing course guid to AFNR.
A comprehensive one year career and technical education program with a focus on student directed learning; hands-on inquiry and a focus on Sustainable Agriculture; Food & Cooking; Urban Gardening & Farming; Natural Resources such as Water & Air Quality; Climate Change and a wide range of “Green” Career Explorations and Experiences.
AFNR students worked weekly at Life Do Grow Farm, went on 25 field trips to hike along urban creeks, multiple arboreta, green stormwater infrastructure sites and more. A raft of gun violence in the fall/winter kept the rest of the school inside at lunch and break time, and prevented the regular visits to parks for the rest of the school community. Our community partner, Life Do Grow (LDG), shared a waiver with all students requiring them to acknowledge and waive liability for the acknowledged risks to spending time at this urban farming community space – six blocks from our school. We made some shelter in place, and outdoor space “lock-down” plans with the Life Do Grow staff, and spent a lot of time facilitating discussions with students. Every student or parent (if they were under 18) signed the waiver and AFNR continued to spend daily time in our school garden and weekly walking trips to LDG. Having learned that community greening and urban gardens help reduce gun violence, students wanted to opt in, not out of our outdoor greening and gardening efforts. By late winter AFNR students were offered the opportunity to clean up, plan, build and plant a vacant lot on Dakota Street down the street from LDG. Students showed up and worked hard on this. One group built several new raised beds. Others came on weekends to check on the garden, weed and harvest. AFNR students hosted an end of school year trip for entire 11th grade to visit LDG and Dakota st prior as part of the recruiting plan for AFNR.