UA students end summer internship in Walker County
by Jennifer Cohron
Aug 02, 2013 | 2357 views | 0 0 comments | 38 38 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Bryant Cooper works on one of the raised bed gardens at West Jasper Elementary School. Cooper, a student at the University of Alabama, worked to expand the gardens during a two-month summer internship sponsored by UA’s New College and the Walker Area Community Foundation. – Photo by: Jennifer Cohron.
Bryant Cooper works on one of the raised bed gardens at West Jasper Elementary School. Cooper, a student at the University of Alabama, worked to expand the gardens during a two-month summer internship sponsored by UA’s New College and the Walker Area Community Foundation. – Photo by: Jennifer Cohron.
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Students from the University of Alabama have been in Walker County for the third consecutive summer tackling important issues with local partners.

Bryant Cooper teamed up with Jon Nee, director of Camp McDowell’s new farm school, to expand raised bed gardens at West Jasper Elementary School.

“I think when people better understand where their food comes from, they can live healthier lives. What better way to do that than with children?” Cooper said.

The gardens were established last summer by another intern from UA’s New College program.

The school recently received a $2,000 School Garden Grant from the Whole Kids Foundation to fund improvements.

West Jasper students now have access to more and bigger beds, a rain barrel and a compost station.

Cooper also provided teachers with a packet of information to help them maximize the use of the gardens.

He included planting and harvesting schedules as well as course objectives from the state’s core curriculum that can be taught or reinforced with a garden.

Principal Rita Pilling said there are now enough garden beds for each grade level to maintain one.

“We’re really excited about the possibilities,” she said.

UA senior Elizabeth Ernstberger secured funding from Honda of Jasper to support the community garden at Capstone Rural Health Center in Parrish.

The garden was established in 2011 with a grant from the Walker Area Community Foundation.

The garden is used as a food bank for patients and community members, serving more than 300 families in its first two years.

It is also an educational resource. Local horticulturist Richard Ford, who oversees the garden, led a six-week gardening class at Capstone earlier this year.

Ernstberger sought out Kevin Callahan of Honda and Hyundai of Jasper after learning that the garden had become too expensive for Capstone to maintain.

Honda’s donation is expected to fund the garden for the next 12 months.

Another intern from New College, Jackson Harris, worked with the agricultural science instructors at seven area high schools to create short-term and long-term strategic plans for their programs.

The plans were customized based on each instructor's goals and addressed such topics as turf grass management, hydroponics, chicken coops and livestock.

For his project, Cameron Lyons conducted interviews with key community members on the subject of literacy.

Gina Scruggs, education correspondent for Jasper City Schools, will be using the video clips in professional development workshops provided for faculty in the upcoming school year.

“The goal is to show the videos in the workshops to get the teachers talking. Then the teachers show it in their classrooms for their students to have similar discussions,” Lyons said.

New College is an interdisciplinary liberal arts program that allows students to combine traditional coursework with other learning opportunities that are self-directed and community-based.

Partners for Action and Research in Communities is a collaborative program of New College and the Walker Area Community Foundation.

Launched in 2011, the internship program embeds students in Walker County for eight weeks each summer.

Health and education have been a key part of the students’ projects for the past three years.

Motivated by the area’s ranking as the least healthy in Walker County, last year’s interns hosted a Garden Fest to promote the community garden on Airport Road, the local farmer’s market and Shape Up Walker County, a health initiative started under the leadership of Sen. Greg Reed.