Jada Patto, 15, is one of 16 Middletown High School students planting their own raised beds at the Middletown Community Gardens, part of Butler County MetroParks, next to the Sonny Hill Community Center during the summer break. The agricultural project is part of a summer leadership program designed to broadened the experiences and skill sets of city youth. Funded by local and state monies, the harvest of vegetables in the fall will go to their families and fellow students. The Leadership Academy is a program developed by Marie Edwards of The Rise After School and Mentoring Program in 2019. It is a six week summer leadership program that is available to Middletown High School students in grades 9 - 11. The Leadership Academy is intended to introduce students to entrepreneurial, leadership, and soft skills to help them in their future endeavors. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

Middletown students building gardens to help feed district families

Summer break for dozens of Middletown High School students now includes hands-on learning of a dirty sort as they build gardens, plant seeds and eventually harvest vegetables on the grounds of the Sonny Hill Community Center.

Anisha Daniels, mentoring manager for the city’s Community Building Institute (CBI), which is coordinating and helping to fund the project, said gardening also “stresses the importance of civic engagement.”

“The students adopted plots and also planted flowers in different areas around Middletown,” said Daniels.

Middletown Schools Superintendent Marlon Styles Jr. has a reputation as an aggressive advocate for digital learning, using the latest instructional technology. But Styles used a more traditional tool when he recently joined students in creating the gardens by grabbing a shovel to hoist rich soil into the garden beds.

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“This is a fun opportunity for the Middletown High School students to work together and own their project of building a community garden. This is a student-driven project and they’re in charge completely,” said Styles.

It may look like a series of gardens, he said, but it’s also a back-to-nature showcase for students to learn and show their developing skills in a number of areas, he said.

“This is a big operation for the students and everyone has a role. From shovel and raking duty to wheelbarrow operations. They 100 percent owned it and they are 100 percent showing the community the leadership and talent we have in our schools,” said Styles.

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Funded by local and state monies, the gardens will be used to grow tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, green beans, bell peppers, jalapenos, carrots and lettuce, said Karin Maney, executive director of CBI Middletown.

The harvest will be shared with fellow students, their families and younger Middletown students.

Maney said the garden is managed by Butler Metro Parks and has a total of 36 plots ranging from 10’ x 10’ to 20’x 20’. CBI has purchased 11 of those plots and have installed 20 raised beds and 2 handicapped beds through this program.

“There are community gardens around the city, but to my knowledge this is the first time a youth leadership initiative has been incorporated into the development, planting and harvesting of the gardens,” she said.

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