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McCormick Place YMCA Garden: Summer Camp Week One

Posted by Ron Wolford -

As we finish up our fourth week in the city, students from Chicago Public Schools are just getting started with summer! This week marked the first week of Summer Camps at the McCormick Tribune YMCA. Students age 6-14 spend time at the YMCA building relationships with other students and counselors, learning about healthy living, and giving back to the community. We will be volunteering at the YMCA Outdoor Green Space on Wednesdays with University of Illinois Extension Urban Horticulture Educator, Ron Wolford and Program Coordinator Community Health, Michele Crawford.

This week we were able to introduce ourselves as interns to the staff at the YMCA and meet some of the students. Ages varied in groups, and students' knowledge of plants and gardening varied greatly as well. The groups began by taking a pre-test to evaluate what they had prior knowledge in and then split in half to manage the gardening. Michele taught a lesson on hand washing to teach the importance of healthy living and sanitation while Ron and his interns took the other group.

Ron began the courses with a quick survey of potted plants to see what the students knew about garden crops, and told the students about the Insect Petting Zoo that would be coming to their camp on Wednesdays during the summer. It was awesome to see that some students had no experience working in home or school gardens, while some knew skills from working with mothers and grandmothers in home gardens. After Ron was finished, we spent time showing students which plants were weeds so we could clean up the beds and prepare them for planting in the coming weeks. The crops produced in the gardens will be used for learning experiences and healthy eating lessons. For example, one of the beds in the garden was planted entirely with crops that could be used to make salsa, as a tribute and applicable lesson for the high population of Hispanic students at the YMCA. Students were excited to know that they would be growing tomatoes, peppers, and cilantro.

As it goes with any outdoor activity, we had a backup activity for when the weather didn't go our way and we were forced inside. Students attempted to identify potted plants and played a "Name that Veggie" game on Ron's computer. We were thankful that Ron had a backup way of teaching his lesson, and we think it was still applicable and effective in teaching students something new. There's something to be said about teaching to a large demographic of students, and students of all ages. In one day, we met students who weren't fluent in English, others who had no experience working in gardens, and others who were young, loud, and rambunctious.

It was awesome to see what was available to these students in a garden setting. There were six or seven garden beds full of soil, a shed for storing tools, a chicken coop with three hardy hens, and several educators willing to share their time and knowledge so that these students could be educated on home gardening and environmental stewardship. We are really looking forward to returning to McCormick Tribune YMCA and seeing what next week has in store!

Shelby & Ilana

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