Maryland sees green schools, preparing students for horticultural career

It looks a lot like Christmas at Parkside High School in Salisbury, with red and white poinsettias lining greenhouse tables and poinsettia flags and holiday wreaths welcoming customers as they pick up plants and gift packages of tea and honey at the student-operated A+ Garden Centre.

Since it opened in 1999, the Centre has become one of the largest school-based businesses in the country. Students do all the work, from planting to sales to online promotions for more than 100,000 vegetables, herbs, poinsettias, and perennials. Those sales help sustain the business and instructional initiatives, most importantly Parkside’s horticulture program, which is also supported by community partners who provide resources and in-kind services.

At the program’s helm is Jerry Kelley, who grew up in his family’s landscape business in Montgomery County in the 1980s, then went to work in the fashion industry as a buyer and manager for several decades. “It’s a way of giving back,” he said. “Our mission is really just to provide opportunities for students to get involved in every aspect of the green industry, of the environment, where they feel comfortable, and where they have a path, where they have a passion.”

Kelley begins each school year by handing out the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, a series of aspirations that the UN calls “a blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all.”  He asks students to write a short essay about which one of those goals means the most to them. How students respond reveals their interests, which Kelley then weaves into assignments and research projects in the curriculum, he said.

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