Students getting hands dirty while earning credits

By Kevin Jeffrey
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

It’s been six years and still going strong for the Focus on Youth Program.

The Lakehead District School Board continue to run the eight-week outdoor program in cooperation with Roots Community Food Centre — formerly Roots to Harvest — and the Ministry of Education.

It allows up to 12 students get paid for their time at the garden near the Volunteer Pool while also earning two co-op credits towards graduation.

The students earn a salary of $19.70 per hour, which is financed by the province.

Lakehead board superintendent of education Jane Lower said that the students learn personal skills in the program.

“Working with the team, how to communicate and collaborate and work with customers and learning how to market. They plant the garden, they harvest the garden, they sell the product,” Lower said. 

“They also do leadership activities; [when] elementary [students], who are participating in summer programs, come here [to the garden] the older students will tour them through the gardens and show them all of the cool things that are happening here.”

Lower added she also sees growth in the communication skills of the students.

“Most of [the students] are very quiet. They’re shy, they’re not communicating. And by the end of the program, they’re working with the customers that show up the community. It’s really quite amazing to see the difference in their confidence from the start to the end of the program.”

Roots Community Food Centre program director Airin Stephens also sees the improvement in students, as they transform into kids that don’t mind getting their hands dirty.

“I love watching when you first come in and they’re like, you’re going to get me to do what?” Stephens said. “Watching them at the beginning plant the seeds and water, to moving forward a few weeks to actually see the plants grow, being able to harvest something and eat it.”

Stephens added new friendships are made outside of the school setting.

Lower did say that in the last few years, mentoring the younger students has been added on to the program.

“[The] leadership component we have found has added to the skills that the students acquire and that’s something that will continue to expand on,” Lower said. “We develop [the program] based on the students, their individual needs. [For example] if we have students that need bank accounts, we set that up. If we have students who need social insurance numbers, the staff work with the students to set that up. So it’s really case by case year by year.”

The program winds down at the end of August.