Three students attending SEK Learning Center in Girard recently became the first to complete the new horticulture internship program at Greenbush - The Southeast Kansas Education Service Center.
James Witzel, Samantha Halmai and Alexxiz Graham all completed the semester-long program, in which students learn horticultural and career skills while working in Greenbush's newly renovated hydroponic greenhouse.
"They met all the goals we had set—everything from career skills to horticultural competencies," said Sydney Hale, Horticulture and Outdoor Education Coordinator at Greenbush.
SEK Learning Center Principal Jon Bishop said his school serves students who sometimes struggle in traditional school settings, drawing from all 13 districts within the SEK Interlocal. The horticulture internship, Bishop said, opened the students' eyes to new possibilities—and, in one instance, resulted in a summer job, thanks to a resume developed during the program.
"It’s hard to describe what I felt when I saw this person describe what they’d done and how proud they were," Bishop said. "It was one of those educational moments where you go, 'This is exactly why I got into this business'—a kid going, 'Look at what I did. I'm a success.'"
Hale said she structured the internship in such a way that it would build a work ethic in addition to teaching students about greenhouse operations. At first they learned basic safety and plant nutrition; then they moved onto adjusting pH levels and delivering the correct amount of nutrients; and then they looked at indicators of plant health.
In time, Hale incorporated discussions about appropriate work conversation and ways to cooperate with others.
"I tried to reinforce the idea that even though you might not enjoy something on a particular day, it’s part of the job," Hale said.
In the last few weeks of the internship, the group worked on resumes, thinking through the skills they'd learned and identifying ways they could capture those experiences on paper.
"I think it is really hard to get job experience these days, because a lot of beginning positions for students are taken by adults now," Hale said. "I think this is a really good opportunity for kids to get hands-on skills that apply to any field, plus a unique skill in horticulture."
For a quick walkthrough of the greenhouse's features and the plants grown by the students, check out the video below: