Huey Elementary School gets pop-up improvements

Samuel B. Huey Elementary School’s front garden woke up last Thursday as an overgrown patch of green and ended the day looking a bit brighter and decidedly less overgrown.

In the gated garden outside of Huey, across 52nd Street from Malcolm X Park, the sunburst of raised beds were given a fresh coat of paint, and new flowering plants joined the veggies already growing, and pallet benches provide a place to sit.

This pop-up garden is a joint effort by freshmen at the Science Leadership Academy, Huey 4th and 5th grade Garden Club students, 52nd Street’s corridor manager Akeem Dixon, and community partners who donated garden materials.

Students in Pearl Jonas’ freshman class at Science Leadership Academy (SLA) had $500 to spend on a semester of service project. Their hope was to do a project that helps beautify a neighborhood, and focused in on ways to address an underused space to help strengthen a community. One student reached out to Dixon, who works at The Enterprise Center as 52nd Street’s corridor manager, for possible projects. Dixon pitched the idea of a pop-up park and they ultimately landed on Huey’s hardly used front garden as the site.

For Dixon it helps create a bright spot along the corridor, for Huey it creates a new shared green space, and for SLA students it was a chance to roll up their sleeves and do some good.

The garden was abuzz last Thursday as 10 Huey kids helped spread mulch, weed and plant. Several SLA students went to the Department of Making + Doing for the morning to repurpose shipping pallets into benches. About 25 more SLA students trimmed shrubs, painted, weeded, and picked up litter.

“There was a great energy in the class when we started this. They felt ownership, they really felt like they could drive the project,” said Jonas. “They can do so much more than we give them credit for.”

Jonas said the students wanted to create a space that the community would want. “By putting the furniture in here the hope is that it becomes a space that it used,” she said.

The pop-up garden isn’t going to be a public space, but it will be something passers by can enjoy. So for Dixon, who works to improve community life on 52nd Street, the project is just one more piece helping build a better corridor. For Huey’s students, teachers, and staff the garden is a new shared space.

“It’s awesome,” said Navyan, a Huey 4th grader, who said she likes growing garlic. “It makes the school look better on the outside.”

The garden’s raised beds are a place where teachers already help make classroom lessons about science and nutrition real by exposing young people to gardening. Now that it’s cleaned up Garden Club students like Navyan will be able to enjoy the space more and maybe it’ll prove inviting for others at Huey too.

“It’s the only green space on the campus,” Huey teacher Monty Yellock said. “I hope that this can be a place where [students] can come and write, draw, read, hang out to get out of the classroom especially on hot days.”

One more thing that might help: WePAC installed a mini library – a birdhouse-like box where kids can share books – outside of the garden this week. WePAC reopened Huey’s library in January thanks to private funding and volunteers.

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