Summer days can stretch long for many young students in the District whose families don’t have thousands of extra dollars for camps and enrichment programs.
But a group of children in a subsidized housing development in the Parkside-Kenilworth neighborhood has been busy for the past month planting a new garden as part of a free summer program.
On a recent morning, children from the Paradise at Parkside Apartments showed a group of visitors what they had planted so far in their new wood-framed garden beds. They pointed out a long vine with a small flower that will eventually become a cantaloupe, some leafy plants bearing hot peppers and tiny new shoots of mustard greens or collard greens.
They said they are learning how to care for their growing garden.
“You give it love and care like you would a baby,” said Jamiah Cunningham, 10, a rising sixth grader. “You feed it and water it.”
The children’s counselors are students from Georgetown University. Cat Skolnicki, who just graduated, and Michelle Stearn, who will be a senior this year, suggested the idea and got a grant to pay for it.
E. Quinton Gordon, who oversees resident services at the housing development, said he was skeptical at first. “Another garden? Where they are going to learn how to eat zucchini and arugula?” he said. “But there’s a heavy learning component to it.”
Part of the program is to learn about and try new vegetables. But students also write about their experiences and learn science lessons about plant life cycles and the natural world. They have taken field trips in the area to see local urban farms and community gardens, and a mobile farmer’s market.
The summer program also offers a class on preparing healthy food. Teacher Mark Weinberger, from nonprofit Healthy Living Inc., gave a room full of students a tour of the ingredients for a classic Japanese stir fry. Then he turned on some West African music, and they got to work, chopping tofu and garlic and zesting limes for their own version of the dish.
The full summer program, which goes from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. every week day, also offers tutoring in math and reading. The goal is to reduce summer learning loss that can increase the achievement gap.
Such summer programming is uncommon in affordable housing developments, said Phillip Peters, assistant director of community engaged research for Neighborhood Partners, which provides resident services for Paradise at Parkside and other affordable housing developments owned by Telesis Corporation.
“With any kind of affordable housing, especially when you are focusing on the lower end of affordable housing, the focus is on the basics,” he said. “Unfortunately, these programs are rare.”
Correction: A previous headline of this post incorrectly said the garden is in Southeast D.C. The garden is in Northeast D.C. This version has been corrected.