Heat crashes over the Urban Farm in waves, pooling in the thick air above the 6 Stones parking lot before the uncertain breeze carries it across to the rows of organic crops. Hunched over the budding foliage, Charlotte Banks and her mixed class of Trinity High School students don’t bat an eye. As the school year comes to a close, Banks and her Family and Community Service (“FACS”) class are trying to squeeze every last ounce from their service project.
Launched in 2017, the class gives Trinity students a chance to develop leadership skills that will last beyond the classroom. Naturally, getting outside and off campus is built into the curriculum.
It usually takes a few weeks for them to adjust, but in each of the past two years, the students list their volunteer time as an educational highlight. Often, they call it one of the best and most formative experiences school ever offered them.
Sowing the Seeds of Service
Of the students we interviewed in the garden, none thought they’d be spending one day a week farming. They signed up for the class expecting to read a pile of books; maybe do the occasional volunteer project. In fact, even Banks wasn’t sure what she was signing up for when she took over the class.
“Last year was our first year, and when I got the class, I was like ‘Community Service? Where am I going to go?’ [6 Stones does] so much for Trinity… I thought it would be great for us to give back to them.”
It didn’t take long for Banks to work out a deal with Scott Sheppard, the CEO at 6 Stones. Trinity students have been working on the farm ever since. All told, three classes spend a portion of their week mulching, planting, and watering the organic crops in the garden. Two International Baccalaureate groups help to cover tasks that the FACS class can’t.
“It’s so non-traditional, in the classroom. We’re outside, and it’s gorgeous weather most of the time. It’s been an easy sell,” Banks said. “it was just a perfect class for this.”
She’s hoping that her students got a taste of volunteer service that they won’t be able to shake.
Building a Community Culture
By all accounts, the course is working. Nearly every student interviewed mentioned the pleasure of volunteering — and of escaping the classroom for a few precious hours a week — in their list perks. All of them said that they’d developed social skills by working with their would-be farm family.
“I didn’t know what to expect, honestly,” said Kathryn, the most eager volunteer on the day of our interviews. “It’s very unique. You learn that you can start building social skills and teamwork skills that I never knew I had or was capable of.
“We’re always stuck on our phones all the time, and I think just looking up for a couple of minutes can really change your perspective. Gaining those skills will really help you in the long term,” she said, capturing the sentiments of her classmates even as she gave thanks for them.
“They actually reached out to me and really supported me… I go through problems with social skills every day, but that’s another story for another time.”
Kathryn wasn’t the only soft-spoken student who came away with new confidence. The classmates who helped her to escape her tendency to withdraw said the same things. They felt closer to each other than they ever expected, made friends they never thought they’d make. They were especially grateful to have met John Moody, whose garden experience and life wisdom — along with the delicious fish he fried for them near the end of the course — were the common theme in a pile of Thank You notes delivered to 6 Stones at the end of the school year.
“Thank you John for the amazing fish fry you served us with a lot of passion,” wrote one student, “I have experienced so much thanks to you and Jason [Thurman, who oversees the farm]'s guidance and perseverance in wanting to make this community a better place for everyone.”
In the course of three months together, the class learned the central lesson that 6 Stones teaches: when we work together, we grow together. And when we do that, the entire community benefits.
Family and Community Service means more than a single day of volunteering every week. The class is also responsible for planning and executing an event every Trimester. For the last two years, that event has been a fundraiser for 6 Stones.
The 2018 edition saw students work together to sell food to their classmates on campus during all three lunch periods at Trinity. They raised $1,500 for the Urban Farm; equivalent to several weeks of profit from direct produce sales. Banks says that donating the money back to the farm is now a tradition for the class and that every student supported the idea immediately. After all, that’s what family does.
“I feel like [the farm] made us see past people’s differences,” said Arianna, another student-farmer. “There are people in this class that I would have never talked to or be caught with in the hall if I didn’t know them now.”
Most of the students credit Banks for forcing them to interact early on and helping them to build relationships in the weeks of labor that followed. Some of them said that she was the first teacher they regarded as a friend. But perhaps the most telling statement came from one of the more reserved students:
“I’m going to miss this class because I feel like we all just get along… I come to school because I know my second period and my third period is going to be fun. I just like being around everybody. They’re like my family.”
We’re in favor of anything that makes our neighbors feel that way.