West Side students harvesting STEM know-how, with side of veggies, in GEAR UP program – Chicago Tribune

Students at the Gary West Side Leadership Academy Thursday celebrated a fall bounty that went beyond tomatoes and beans.

The students, who are participating in one of nine Indiana GEAR UP programs, watched the unveiling of a new greenhouse next to 10 raised beds on the west side of the school.

Nearby, hamburgers were simmering on a grill along with other snacks for the students to enjoy.

Steve Heinold, associate director of school programs at GEAR UP, said it has been planning a garden project since 2018 as part of a joint effort with Purdue Extension Service and the Shirley Heinze Land Trust.

“Our goal is to use the greenhouse and garden to expand the curriculum,” he said. The $4,000 greenhouse arrived in a kit that the students helped assemble, he said.

Gear Up associate director of school programs Steve Heinold helped unveil a new greenhouse for a STEM program at the Gary West Side Leadership Academy on Thursday.

Last spring, the students also built the raised beds behind the school near the entrance to the stadium and filled them with soil before planting vegetables.

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“We want to take every opportunity to introduce students to STEM careers,” said Kerchell Hobson, director of secondary education at Gary. “This is science,” she said of the greenhouse.

Before graduating in June, Clarence Grier said he helped start the garden. “We put the wood together and filled in the earth,” he said.

“The students decided what they wanted to plant,” said Grier, who has been with GEAR UP since 9th grade.

Seniors Anthony Parker and Jazlyn Muniz, both 17, watered a bed of kale that will eventually be donated for a Thanksgiving meal gift.

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“It’s a good learning experience. I’m thinking about starting my own mini garden,” Muniz said.

GEAR UP is not a short-term approach.

Beginning in middle school, it follows students in nine school districts in Classes of 2022 and 2023. These 7,000 students will receive college and career readiness assistance until they graduate and enter postsecondary schools.

Grier said he plans to enroll at Purdue Polytechnic Institute at the Subaru manufacturing campus in Lafayette.

Indiana’s GEAR UP, an acronym for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, is led by a Purdue University staff member and the Indiana Commission on Higher Education.

Anita Johnson, regional director of GEAR UP, pulls a tarp from a new greenhouse at the Gary West Side Leadership Academy on Thursday.

The $24.5 million project is being funded by the US Department of Education, said Heinold, who said GEAR Up will soon be launching another cohort at Gary’s two middle schools.

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Lynda Bodie-Fernandez, a program assistant at Purdue Extension Service in Lake County, coordinated the gardening project, which included blonde bush cucumbers, green bush beans, purple basil, lemon balm, mint, tomatoes, cabbage and peppers. She said the students selected the plants from a seed catalog.

She said the garden will double in size over the next year when students start with seeds in pots in their new greenhouse, allowing them to study horticulture first-hand all year round.

Senior Joseph Coburn, 17, joined the GEAR UP program in 7th grade. He loved the opportunities and after school tutoring and has a newfound love for gardening.

“It’s a great idea. I’ve been gardening at home for years. It’s good to learn how to plant the vegetables. I’ll definitely keep gardening,” said Coburn, who is pursuing a hospitality management degree at Purdue .

Carole Carlson is a freelance reporter for the Post-Tribune.