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Rickoff students to combine plants, community and the arts in new garden project



Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson’s Office of Sustainability has named 2017 the Year of Vibrant Green Space, and the students at Andrew J. Rickoff School, are working with  Kulture Kids, the nonprofit organization that integrates the arts into traditional education approaches, to make sure the 30- by 85-foot area behind their school on E. 147 St. in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood is as vibrant as can be with a community garden and labyrinth.
 
For the past seven years the Kulture Kids group has worked with students at the Cleveland Metropolitan School District elementary school, using original arts-integrated programs based on STEM concepts to teach them about everything from science to transportation through the arts.
 
This year, Rickoff students will learn about the difference between living and nonliving things, plant lifecycles, the environment, and scientific processes while creating a school and community garden.
 
“Our mission is to integrate the arts into the academic curriculum,” explains Kulture Kids founding artistic director Robin Pease. “With the Year of Vibrant Green Space, I was thinking about what we were going to do, and we found this large green space.” The lesson then became clear.
 
“I thought of the science of plants native to Ohio,” she says. “We thought, there’s so much you can learn from a garden – responsibility, the life cycle.”
 
The three-year project will include flowers and vegetables, many grown from seed by the students in their classrooms. Plants will include sunflowers, bulbs, raspberries, carrots, lettuces, beets, tomatoes, beans, an herb spiral and milkweed to attract monarch butterflies.
 
Pease says they plan to share the garden’s bounty with the surrounding Mount Pleasant community. “Whatever food we grow, we hope to share with the neighborhood,” she says. “And flowers are pretty and smell good.”
 
Kulture Kids is relying on donations for many of the seeds, bulbs and plant material. DistinctCle is donating herb seeds to grow, as is The Ohio State University Extension Services, and organizers plan to take advantage of the Cleveland Public Library’s free heirloom seeds library. Master Gardeners of Cuyahoga County and the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability have also provided in-kind support.
 
The design also includes an earthworm hatchery to promote healthy soil.
 
The centerpiece of the garden will a labyrinth-like paved trail. “This isn’t really a maze, there’s no trick to it,” Pease says of the labyrinth’s design. “It’s a path and you follow it to the center. I guess it’s a path to nowhere, but it’s a path for meditation, for thought and reflection.”
 
In fact, Pease sees the labyrinth as a potential alternative to detention at the school. “Kids get in trouble and get detention,” she explains. “We thought, wouldn’t it be cool if kids could instead go walk through the garden and meditate and think – to take a moment, to think, to take a breath.”
 
But before the path can be built, Kulture Kids needs both volunteer and materials support. The group is actively searching for someone to donate the paver stones and boulders as well as landscapers willing to work on the garden and path. The group can arrange for transporting larger stone donations, according to Kristan Rothman, Kulture Kids’ operations director
 
Pease points out that, as a 501(C) (3) nonprofit, their funds are limited, but donations are also tax-exempt. “We definitely need a lot of help to do this project,” she says. “We’re looking for a landscaper who will help guide us and we’re looking for donations from the community to make this happen.”
 
Kulture Kids has already received an $18,812 grant from Cuyahoga Arts and Culture for physical aspects of the $53,000 project, says Rothman, as well as a $7,364 grant from the Ohio Arts Council and a $15,500 grant from the Martha Holden Jennings Foundation for Kulture Kids’ in-classroom residency work.
 
The search for volunteers has turned into its own lesson to the Rickoff students. “We talked to the kids about 'what is a community',” explains Pease. “One kid said, ‘It’s me, but it’s also the principal and the janitor. It’s the gas station down the street.’ They saw that a community is all of us. We have to work together.”
 
To further the community presence, organizers are applying for a Toni Morrison bench. If approved, the $3,500 commemorative bench will become part of the Bench by the Road project, which represents significant periods and places in African American history.
 
Pease explains that the Mount Pleasant neighborhood has a rich history, with African American farmers settling in the community in 1893. In fact, Rickoff School is the site of an historical marker honoring Carl Stokes and Jim Brown that was spearheaded by Cleveland city councilman Zack Reed.

"We're hoping the garden will continue the settlement of Mount Pleasant,” says Pease.
 
The Rickoff Community Garden residency began in October with visual artist Wendy Mahon helping the students with the creation of herbariums. This month the students will begin working with a composer on an original song. Pease will then work with students in late February and early March to plant their seeds in the classroom, while dancer Desmond Davis will work with students to choreograph an original dance in March and early April.
 
The garden will officially launch on May 13, with a formal name and logo designed by the students.

Read more articles by Karin Connelly Rice.

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 18 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.
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