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Building Communities and inspiring students at Vancouver schools - one garden box at a time

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Helping elementary schools build and take ownership of their gardens is the goal of an initiative by Tupper Technical Trades program.

For the last 10 years, grade 12 students in the Tupper Tech program have been working with elementary schools throughout the district training younger students to use tools to construct wood boxes for their gardens.

"It's all about leadership, teamwork and students learning organizational skills," explained Russ Evans, instructor and coordinator of the Tupper Tech program. "One of my best days had eight adults sitting on a bench in a gym crying as they watched their exceptional students being totally engaged, confident and independent. The students were managing their own behaviours and recognizing their absolute value in the school."

Each elementary school raises funds for the materials and Tupper Tech provides the tools and training.

Sometimes, the Tupper program students go to an elementary school to help the younger students learn how to use tools such as a chop saw to put the boxes together. "At one school, the younger children were so confident in their abilities that they were literally pushing the older students out of the way, saying you're slowing us down—let's get-er done," said Evans.

"It's a remarkable program and an amazing and inclusive collaboration," said Laura Rhead, principal at Waverley Elementary. The school has six boxes used to grow vegetables and flowers and a storage box for garden supplies.

"It was a wonderful and unique experience for our grade six and seven students to learn to build their own garden boxes under the dedicated leadership of Russ and his grade 12 students," described Valeria Kao, the Parents Advisory Committee garden coordinator at John Norquay Elementary, where they have 18 garden boxes, two storage boxes and composting bins.

Since the initiative started, some 50 Vancouver schools now have boxes which serve as community gardens.

"It has been a pleasure to work with Russ on this inspiring program over the years," said Geoff Pearmain, grounds supervisor for the Vancouver School Board. "We look forward to working with the Tupper Tech program in the future."

Every year, 20 students in the Tupper Tech program explore a career in the trades and receive hands-on training in areas such carpentry, plumbing, welding and automotive.

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