Students at Gwynn Park High School in Brandywine are planting the seeds of a new agricultural-themed academy, the first in Prince George’s County Public Schools.
Gwynn Park is the only Prince George’s school to adopt the Curriculum for Agricultural Science Education, or CASE, program designed to introduce agricultural science into high school curriculums, said Gwynn Park’s CASE director, Donald Belle.
“We get everything we need from agriculture. We get food, supplies for housing, medicine. All that comes from agriculture,” said Danita Matthews, an instructor in the Gwynn Park program, now in its first year. “They’re learning that it isn’t just farmers working on farms. Agriculture is a very diverse field. There are hundreds of occupations in the field of agriculture.”
Belle said the school’s Ecology Club began a project five years ago to repair its greenhouse, which had fallen into disrepair, and to plant raised gardens in the adjoining field.
Belle said that as the school system began creating career academies, Gwynn Park was singled out for an environmental studies academy focused on agriculture.
“[The school system] saw what we were doing out here, our efforts in environmental education, in agricultural education and science and they said we would be a natural fit for an environmental studies academy,” Belle said.
The program is open only to incoming Gwynn Park students. Currently, 26 freshmen and sophomores are enrolled, Belle said.
“This is our pilot group, our first cohort. They’re actually helping us develop the program,” Belle said.
On March 19, the school received a donation of fruit trees and shade trees from Washington, D.C., nonprofit Casey Trees, which also provided instruction for the care and planting of the trees.
Belle said the 10 fruit trees, which include fig, persimmon, plum and pecan, will be used in the agricultural program.
“These fruit trees will actually be the start of a fruit orchard, where some students will study the science of fruit trees, such as natural pest management. Other students will study the economics of fruit trees,” Belle said.
The five shade trees will help beautify the campus, Belle said.
Aleksandria Padgett, 15, a ninth-grader enrolled in the program, helped plant the trees the afternoon of March 19 after a brief tree-planting lesson from Casey Trees.
Aleksandria, of Brandywine, is president of the school’s Future Farmers of America chapter and said she plans to major in biology in college.
Despite rainy conditions, Aleksandria said she enjoyed the experience.
“I’m the sort of person who likes to work with my hands, to see what I’m doing, instead of listening all day in class,” Aleksandria said.