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'Fruits of their labor'
Anticipation was clear on the face of Luke Fiveash, 16, as he and his teacher, Dave Guza, dug in the onion patch in the garden at Coastal Academy in Brunswick on Wednesday.

"Aww, look at this beautiful baby," Luke exclaimed as he pulled forth an onion from the ground.

Dusting it off, he turned to Guza to show off the size of the vegetable, which Luke himself had grown from a seed.

That happiness and excitement are something Guza has been trying to instill in his students in the class, based in environmental science.

"It really is his baby," Guza said of Luke's onion. "He, like the other kids in the class, have grown almost all of these plants from seeds. They've watered and nurtured them and they're seeing the fruits of their labor."

As Guza and Luke tended to the onions, fellow students Josh Westberry, 18, and Mikel Thomas, 16, tended to their own responsibilities in the garden. The students work together to make sure the plants turn out as healthy as possible, and they often like to show off their produce to each other.

"Oh no, don't come near me with that onion," Josh laughed as Luke showed him the wares from his garden.

In his own section, Josh tends to the carrots, which he greatly prefers over the onions. Pulling up the first carrot of the season, he immediately went to wash it off and enjoy it.

Guza says the students thrive on seeing those productive results.

"They like working in the garden because it's hands-on. They're seeing a result. They even make a little money for the class when we sell the vegetables," he said. "To me, the kids are here because they don't always make it in a traditional classroom, whether it's for social or behavioral reasons, and we all look for alternative methods to work with the kids. Growing something and seeing a productive result is helping them."

The students will easily lend support to Guza's statement. Luke, who knew nothing about gardening prior to the class, has enjoyed it so much he plans to start one at home and pass along his skills to all he can.

"I've really learned how to do this from start to finish and when I get mad here, I just go outside and start working out there. When I feel a lot of stress, I just work it off in the garden and it's like therapy," he said.

What started out as just a few plant beds has blossomed into a thriving and diverse garden, thanks to the students, Guza and fellow teacher Pat Johnson. Not only have the students found something that makes them feel better, but they're also learning valuable horticulture and science skills in addition to potential vocational skills, Guza said.

"The more seeds we've planted, the more kids want to grow," Guza said, pointing to the newest plant beds.

Luke said the group had just finished planting cantaloupe, eggplant, cucumbers and watermelon.

Mikel pointed to some freshly dug areas on the other side of the garden, saying the group will continue to plant strawberries and tomatoes. His garden in particular contains brussels sprouts.

"I'm not a fan of them, but I've planted them and water them when I need to," Mikel said. "I've also done a lot of clean up in our greenhouse so that the ferns we have there can grow better."

Many of the other students at Coastal Academy who see Mikel, Josh and Luke's gardening results want to join.

Guza and Johnson are trying to find ways for more of them to get involved.

"We're planning to give them a section in the green house to nurture, and it'll help them with their science lessons as well. Everybody wants to come out here now," Johnson said.

Guza said his students also refurbished a former pond in the center of the campus that has benefitted more than just themselves.

"These students came out here, dug up the area, filled the pond and put the fish in. And now, the pond is a therapeutic place for the kids to enjoy, relax and even come see when they are upset," he said.

* Reporter Sarah Lundgren writes about education and other local topics. Contact her at, on Facebook or at 265-8320, ext. 322.

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