BY KARISSA MILLER
Agriculture and Science Early College students, staff and other volunteers worked up a sweat Friday while laboring to make Harmony Elementary School’s campus a little more beautiful.
Some students helped pull weeds, while others helped prepare raised beds for mulch, which was a fitting project for Earth Day.
“I’ve never done this before,” student Tate Pennell said as he was leveling out the dirt in the school’s garden beds. “The closest thing to this I’ve done is mow my grandmother’s yard.”
Pennell, 16, said he’s glad he took part in the ASEC Community Day at Harmony. In addition to performing a valuable community service, he expanded his knowledge of agriculture.
“I didn’t know that you can grow (edible) plants on a wall inside a school. It’s so cool,” he explained.
Harmony Elementary is a STEM-Ag focused school and has a Farm to Table initiative in which they grow a variety of lettuces using hydroponic methods.
Harmony STEM-Ag teacher April Smith put together pollinator lessons for ASEC students to teach Harmony students. She selected a book to accompany each hands-on lesson.
“The ASEC kids were uneasy to start off with, but they are a little more comfortable now,” Smith said Friday morning.
During the afternoon, the early college students planted watermelon seeds, cucumber plants, corn and other plants in the raised beds.
Principal Billy Wells said Community Day activities provide a great way for different grades to get oriented, build confidence, make connections in the community and expose students to careers.
“As part of our commitment to making students more aware of our local community, we took them out to several locations to serve and learn,” Wells said.
Students volunteered in Statesville and northern Iredell County area. Locations included:
♦ Union Grove Elementary to do science and greenhouse work;
♦ Fort Dobbs State Historic Site for a tour and service work;
♦ Iredell County Partnership for Young Children for service work; and
♦ Purple Heart Homes for some landscaping work
Other students remained on campus for clean-up service projects and presentations from the Ag Extension Office and Highland K9 gave a demonstration.
Community Day began before the pandemic, but school officials paused the initiative for the past two years.
According to Wells, ASEC’s distance learning advisor Bobbi Williams, a retired teacher, is civic-minded and helped the school bring this day to fruition.
Wells wants serving others in the community to be a part of the student experience at ASEC. He also hopes students will be inspired to continue this tradition once they leave ASEC.
Teacher Justin Phillips said the event is a great way for students to get of their comfort zones.
“Many teenagers are so immersed in their social media. Anytime we can get them out of their bubbles, it’s nice to see them rise to the occasion. I’m so encouraged by what I’ve seen today” Phillips said.
Noah Wittenmyer, 17, admits that standing in front of a classroom required him to stretch a little bit.
However, when Smith asked him to wheel barrow in some mulch, it brought a smile to his face.
“This is fun. I could do this all day long,” he said.
Students Taylor Mann, Hailey Rodriguez and Frederick Flores worked together to help students plant pollinator flowers outside.
“I like talking with the kids and just interacting with them. It’s a happy thing,” Mann said.
Flores added:” The community serves us. It’s important that we serve the community.”
Many students said that they volunteer on a regular basis, and they have fond memories of what it was like to see older kids visit their school when they were younger.
Another highlight among the students was having the opportunity to tell the younger student about the early college program.