& Maggie Fitzpatrick
Urban Community School
The faculty of Urban Community School on Cleveland’s west side began asking their students what they wanted in their community to make it better. Their answer : “better gas stations,” says Maggie Fitzpatrick of Refugee Response, “because they have better food.” This was the start of the learning garden across from the school’s property. “That was a shocking moment for teachers,” she says. Refugee Response had already begun a partnership with the schools, providing tutoring for students of refugee families, community mentorships for parents, and assistance with scheduling their new American lives. With help from the Cleveland Botanical Gardens, the collaborative group convened parents, teachers and community members asking what they enjoyed about being in nature as a child. People recalled their magical memories of climbing a favorite tree to read a book. “My story was always outside making mud pies. It only makes sense now that I’m in the farming world - I’ve always had my hands in the dirt. Some of those elements in the garden really came from us thinking like children or the students saying what they wanted.” Whimsical structures such as a willow tunnel, a large teepee, and even a slide are woven into the garden.
Teachers and a healthy lifestyles coordinator on UCS staff work to incorporate the learning garden into lesson plans and play activity. Mohammad Noormal, Farm Trainer at Refugee Response and a refugee himself, keeps the learning garden productive and beautiful. He also creates new relationships for Refugee Responses agricultural arm. “Every day I find friends,” he says. “We have a good community here.” Whether they be from the USDA, a local restaurant owner, or a neighbor, each new connection helps make Cleveland feel a little less foreign to Mohammad who spent five years as a translator for U.S. and Afghani military.