By: Cate Daniels, undergraduate student, International Studies
Thanks to funding from an Advancing Comunity Engaged (ACE) student scholars grant, my project partner and I were able to establish a program called Growing Together. We worked together with two of the local STRIVE Prep charter schools. These institutions provide a quality education for kindergartener through 12th graders across Colorado and focus on preparing all students to enroll in a four-year college after graduation.
As part of the grant, we worked with two classrooms of students. The first class was a special education class at STRIVE Prep RISE High School, and the second was a middle school class at STRIVE Prep Sunnyside. We began our time with the students by talking about experiences we’ve had which inspired our passion for sustainability and community engagement. We discussed studying abroad, work with the Center for Community Engagement to advance Scholarship and Learning (CCESL), additional University of Denver (DU) student resources, and our personal motivations for caring about these issues. We wanted students to picture themselves in our shoes and to know that they had the power to make a positive impact.
We introduced technical concepts to talk about social and environmental justice through hands-on activities like trivia games and art projects. We also cooked together and tracked the lifecycles of certain foods so that students could learn about the impacts of American cycles of consumption and waste and think critically about their roles within these systems.
After we covered the basics, we focused on discussions of food deserts and food security, and the importance and challenges of establishing and maintaining healthy eating habits. In order to combat these challenges, we decided to build community gardens with both classes of students so that they could feel empowered to provide healthy food options for themselves and their communities. We grew vegetables, spices, and flowers, and worked to ensure that students would be able to recreate the experience at home.
At the end of our time with the students, we hosted a college visit to DU. We wanted to support the STRIVE Prep goal of encouraging higher education by connecting these schools to our college access resources. STRIVE Prep RISE 9th and 10th-grade students came to campus for a half-day experience to get an inside look at the DU student experience. Because 97% of STRIVE Prep students identify as students of color, we partnered with student alliances like the LatinX Student Alliance and the Black Student Alliance to ensure that the younger students saw their identities reflected on our campus. We had a student panel with Q&A, a campus tour, and a meet-and-greet over lunch in the dining halls.
Our work in the Growing Together program gave students the chance to learn about a current issue, how they influence that issue, and what they can do to improve the situation for themselves, their communities, and the world as a whole. Whether or not sustainable food systems are their passion, we hope that all the students came away from this experience feeling like they could initiate this process on their own and that a college degree is possible and could help them become more effective agents of change.
*Editor’s note: Advancing Community Engaged (ACE) student grants are made possible by the generous support of the Arthur Vining David Foundations.