The high school is dormant, empty, cleaned out for summer vacation.
But nestled in a far corner of the grounds is a garden.
And though its early on a summer morning, with the sun already baking the ground, a handful of Garinger High School students are there, pulling weeds and watering plants, tending the plot of land theyve made their own.
For the students, the gardens produce zucchini, okra, squash, tomatoes and more is more than something to sell at the market. Its a project, a point of pride, a way of proving that their school can unite behind something.
Its a fresh start.
Environmental science teacher Andee Hendee, who has been at Garinger two years, spearheaded Garingers garden project after Principal Kondra Rattley told her shed be perfect for the job.
In the end, the whole community came together to make the plan a reality. Hundreds of people showed up on the first planting day in late April. But first, Hendee had to win over the students.
We were just laughing about this, she says. They were saying, When you told us about this, we thought this was going to be so lame!
But once the project began, she noticed a shift in their attitudes. They were taking ownership.
Today one of the students said, I feel like a proud mom, she says. I want the kids to look at it and say, This is our garden, this is part of our community, this is where we can be ourselves.
Its a way of redefining the schools students who, Hendee says, are sometimes reduced to statistics about poverty.
For a while theyve been defined by whats said about them, and for the first time, I think theyre defining who they are, she says. Its beautiful.
Garinger is a high-poverty school in east Charlotte. Of its almost 1,800 students, 88 percent qualified for lunch subsidies a measure of poverty where Garinger ranked the highest of any Charlotte-Mecklenburg high school last year.
A lot of times poverty can be something that divides us, but were all looking for the same thing, Hendee says. The whole point of the garden is to bridge those gaps, those misconceptions.
The student volunteers have interests as varied as business, foreign language and science, but theyve all found something to love in the garden.
Garinger doesnt get involved that much, so Ms. Hendee wanted us to get together and do something, says volunteer Augustine Villalone, a former Garinger student who is now a rising senior at East Mecklenburg High.
Jackie Olguin, a rising senior, coordinates volunteers as project manager. Everybody is welcome to come to the garden, she says. Its a come-when-you-can thing.
Bins of squash and cucumbers surrounded the garden Tuesday as volunteers prepared for their next step selling the produce at Eastside Farmers Market this weekend, the first of many summer market trips.
People dont see Garinger as a place that can strive to help the community, but weve proven them wrong, Villalone says.
The students are probably the most incredible people you will ever meet. They get represented badly sometimes by the media or test scores, but theyre so smart and hardworking and creative , she says.
This garden was just the icing on the cake.
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