April 24, 2017

Building Relationships from the Ground Up!

By Marcie Adame, Pathfinder Achievement Center, Garland ISD

Our mission at Pathfinder Achievement Center is to "Build Relationships."  Because most of our students come to us in a state of "Fight or Flight," they have a difficult time connecting with peers and adults.  At least 90% of our students are under Child Protection Services (CPS) and waiting for a permanent residence.  They struggle with appropriate social behavior, anxiety, anger, and isolation. 

As an advocate for community health and wellness, I am always exploring new ways to introduce individuals to activities that empower them to lead physically active and happy lives.  I try to model and love to share my own experiences.  I had already been thinking about starting a “community” garden but I was really determined to "break ground" after receiving the Healthy Zone grant and attending the orientation at the beginning of the school year.  The Healthy Zone program includes all the elements for empowering our students to live healthy lives while growing community relationships.

  • Purposeful physical activity – Expecting students to exercise for the sake of being healthy or fit isn’t meaningful to most of us, especially teens.  Given the opportunity to do a physical activity that has a relatable purpose (but happens to involve some physical strength and flexibility), students choose meaningful assignments.  Students eagerly participated in ground preparation.  That meant digging in Texas soil (hard as cement), pulling prolific roots and weeds, building raised garden beds, and distributing heavy bags of soil.  The work was hard.  The kids were sweating but most of all they were having fun!
  • Building relationships – Through collaborative efforts from community volunteers, staff, and students we can share our stories with the world around us.  We can find common ground with local farmers, experts, and members of other community gardens.  Bringing awareness and information to others was an important personal mission.  I had been in the school district for ten years and had never heard of this amazing campus that I now call home.  I was among those who know what mental illness was but never understood how it impacted myself or my world.  It was from the personal stories of staff, students, and children like them that my mission sprouted.  Mental illness is scary and produces isolation from family, peers, and communities.  But through trust and healthy positive relationships, individuals with mental health challenges can find hope and purpose.  Community relationships are the most successful way of addressing mental illness because it is proactive. Personally and professionally speaking, while physical health has been a primary mission of mine for years, I’ve continuously struggled with how to get others to care about their own health.  I have come to realize that, by connecting individuals at an emotional level we can empower them to lead a “Happy” lifestyle.  And “Happy” people are “Healthy!” 
  • Mindfulness – The building of relationships is vital to all of us; and, for our students, it requires great effort.  Learning how to be “mindful” of our words and actions is a critical tool to our students’ success.  The gardens allow them the time and opportunity to practice these skills.  We learn to cooperatively work with each other.  Sometimes, we learn to sit quietly and reflect; other times, we converse about personal struggles, hopes, and dreams.  The gardens provide calming physical activities that they can rely on for a lifetime.

We are so excited about the enthusiasm of staff, students, and community members for the gardens.  We have discovered the ultimate “interactive” classroom where lessons are student-directed, purposeful, and the by-product is a healthy and community-rich life.

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