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Vista Students Dig In To New Garden Project
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Working together, Vista students Noah Martins, left, and Jose Torres add another bag of fertilizer to the raised planter box that will soon see vegetable seeds planted at the high school campus along Escalon Avenue. Marg Jackson/The Times

Sunny skies and warmer weather over the past couple of weeks have set the stage for a new period of growth at Vista High School.

The alternative education high school for the Escalon Unified School District, second-year Principal Gustavo Arzac said several students are now taking part in a new garden project on the campus, along Escalon Avenue.

“Vista High School was approved for the SJFB (San Joaquin Farm Bureau) Foundation for Agricultural Education 2021 Agricultural Education Grant. With this grant, we have been able to purchase lumber to build our raised garden boxes for our “Grow Vista Green” project,” explained Arzac. “Students have been working hard building raised garden boxes, clearing up new garden areas and prepping the soil. This project started in early February and will continue through the summer for elective credits.”

A courtyard area behind the Vista classrooms was overgrown with brush and Arzac said the first part of the project involved clearing away all the brush and debris to make room for the garden boxes.

This week, students were able to add soil and fertilizer to the boxes as they move closer to doing the actual planting.

“We just built two more boxes so we can start planting some seeds in the first weeks of March,” noted Arzac.

The project offers up many benefits, said the principal, including giving the students a chance to earn elective credits for the agriculture class and, when summer comes, earn required community service credits by continuing to tend to the garden.

The agriculture class is a one-hour class, two days a week, with the students working cooperatively on the project.

Arzac said initially, they started work last February and had just begun to tackle clearing away the weeds and brush when schools were shut down due to the pandemic. They recently re-started the effort and students are enthusiastic about the class.

“It’s fun, we get to be out in the sunlight, it changes things up a little bit,” said junior Cesar Castillo. “It’s something different; we’re not just sitting inside all the time.”

Junior Rodolfo Castillo agreed that it sounded like fun to have an outdoor, hands on learning opportunity.

“Sometimes you just want to get out of the classroom,” he said.

Arzac noted there are six students taking part in the new garden project: juniors Noah Martins, Jose Torres, Rodolfo Castillo, Cesar Castillo, Josue Vazquez and senior Axel Navarrete.

“I’m leaving it up to the students” about what to plant in terms of the vegetable garden, said Arzac.

The principal, who also teaches Spanish at Escalon High School and is an EHS alum, said there is a real sense of accomplishment for the students, who will get to see their hard work pay off, in the form of fresh garden produce they can take home and share with their families.

“This is an activity they can do during COVID times,” he added of gardening, with flowers planned on one side of the garden in boxes and the vegetables on the other side.

The class is two days a week, Mondays and Thursdays, and in lieu of PE, it is offered as an elective they can take.

“Some of them have never gotten their hands dirty like this,” Arzac said of the gardening project. “This will give them some experience and it’s a lifelong tool they can use; it’s a more impactful undertaking. We will start up (the vegetables) from seed and watch them grow; it should be pretty neat.”

Axel Navarrete, a senior at Vista High School, is one of six students participating in an elective agriculture class with the goal of growing both vegetables and flowers in an on campus garden. Marg Jackson/The Times