Arts & Tech students start gardens

Marysville Arts & Technology High School senior Nikki Cooley and sophomore Emalee Alaniz plant seeds in one of the school’s 16 garden beds on April 30.— image credit: Kirk Boxleitner

Marysville Arts & Technology High School senior Nikki Cooley and sophomore Emalee Alaniz plant seeds in one of the school’s 16 garden beds on April 30.
— image credit: Kirk Boxleitner

By Kirk Boxleitner, Marysville Globe

TULALIP — The unloading of a truck full of compost at the Marysville Arts & Technology High School on Wednesday, April 30, represented the culmination of a six-year dream for Arts & Tech math teacher Karen McCaffrey, and a unique opportunity for Arts & Tech students get dirty while growing their own food.

“Last year, we finally started a club devoted to growing local food,” McCaffrey said. “Not only is the process of gardening a valuable experience, but it teaches these kids how essential these foods are to their health and well-being.”

The Arts & Tech gardens benefitted from the fourth annual Compost Days campaign — jointly coordinated by Cedar Grove, Waste Management, King County and Seattle Public Utilities — which conducted its Big Garden Give, the region’s first compost drive, providing free compost to 120 gardens that grow food for low-income communities in Snohomish and King counties.

John Inge, marketing director for Cedar Grove, stopped by the school that Wednesday with Zsolt Pasztor, production manager of Farmer Frog, to watch the final truckload of compost get dumped next to the Arts & Tech gardens.

“Throughout Snohomish County, we’ve contributed 500 yards of compost to as many as 20 community gardens,” Inge said. “Yesterday, we dropped off about 10 yards, and today, we’re adding about 15 yards to the Arts & Tech school gardens. As much as we talk about the compost loop, it’s incredible to witness personally how the food and yard waste that we receive is now being used to grow fresh food, rather than going into landfills.”

Inge credited Washington State University with helping to connect Cedar Grove,  and the other members of the Compost Days campaign, to community organizations, as well as assisting in coordinating their efforts.

“They’ve been invaluable in linking us to deserving recipients,” Inge said. “This way, we can provide support to gardens that serve all segments of the community.”

As the Arts & Tech students shoveled compost into wheelbarrows and poured it into the eight-foot by four-foot garden beds behind the school building, Pasztor explained the process that Farmer Frog facilitated beforehand.

“It started with the ground being covered with burlap, so that no light would reach the ground,” Pasztor said. “Wood chips were then laid down over the burlap, about four to six inches deep. We have a source of burlap and a connection with loggers to get the wood chips, which amounted to about 10 yards, covering a 20-foot by 30-foot area.”

From there, 16 garden beds were built over the wood chips, with pressure-treated lumber, of which eight were filled with the 10 yards of compost from Cedar Grove on Tuesday, April 29.

“We received 15 yards of compost today, which would probably fill 12 garden beds, but it’s better to have too much than not enough,” Pasztor said on April 30. “We also provided eight  10-gallon buckets with compost and strawberry plants. There’s a growing distance between people’s food and how it’s made, so we want to bring people closer to that food-making, so that they don’t just think of food as coming from Safeway or Albertsons.”

Pasztor also anticipates that Arts & Tech students will be able to apply their lessons in biology in a hands-on fashion in their gardens, perhaps even by doing experiments to see which factors cause plants to grow better.

The Arts & Tech students who volunteered to work the dirt and plant seeds on April 30 agree that they’re seeking closer connections, not only to the source of their food, but also to the community around them.

“I just like growing things,” said sophomore Emalee Alaniz, as she watered one of the garden beds. “It’s nice when you can grow your food more naturally.”

“I like that everyone here has come together as a team to make this happen,” said senior Nikki Cooley, who joined Alaniz in planting seeds in the compost. “I don’t usually get to work with all of these people, so I’m getting to know new people while I’m gardening, which is something I’m already experienced at. When you go to the store, you have to worry whether their fruits and vegetables have been treated with chemicals, but our fruits and vegetables will not only be locally grown, but they’ll be fresh, healthy and delicious.”

“It’s a healthier alternative,” agreed fellow senior Damon Diel Jr. “It also helps save money for the school.”

McCaffrey explained that the food grown in the Arts & Tech gardens would be prioritized, first to go to the students who helped grow it, then to go to community members in need who would be invited to take part in gardening there, with any remaining or leftover food likely going to community groups such as the Marysville Community Food Bank.

“This garden will be a source of ongoing joy for generations to come,” Marysville Arts and Technology High School Principal Terri Kaltenbach said.

The annual Compost Days campaign is a thank-you to area residents for diverting 350,000 tons of food, food soiled-paper and yard debris from landfills. From March 15 through April 15, residents received deep discounts on compost, and donated 30,200 bags of compost in turn, to help grow food in 120 gardens that feed communities.

“Making locally produced compost available to community gardens is an important first step in providing nutritious food for those that need it the most,” said Candy Castellanos, public education outreach manager for Waste Management. “Using compost is the most sustainable, environmentally supportive and efficient way to garden, and we are proud to play a role in growing gardens locally.”

For more information, visit www.compostdays.com.

A&T repair lab teaches computer skills

By Kirk Boxleitner, The Marysville Globe

Kirk BoxleitnerMarysville Arts & Technology High School junior Mason Totten examines the inner workings of a malfunctioning laptop during the school’s repair lab class.

Kirk Boxleitner
Marysville Arts & Technology High School junior Mason Totten examines the inner workings of a malfunctioning laptop during the school’s repair lab class.

MARYSVILLE — A project that began with six students two years ago now sprawls into three separate class periods of budding techies looking to test their skills while helping out others.

The computer repair lab at the Marysville Arts & Technology High School started up so near the end of the 2010-11 school year that it became a summer project, as students volunteered to fix up malfunctioning but ultimately serviceable machines for the One Laptop Per Child nonprofit charitable campaign, which provides affordable educational devices to the developing world.

Paul LaGrange, the computer applications teacher for the Marysville Arts & Technology High School, explained that his students’ work on behalf of OLPC soon expanded to providing low- and no-cost repair services to members of the local community, not only to give the students in-class opportunities for hands-on applications of what they’re learning about computers, but also to benefit their neighbors.

“This is a student leadership class,” LaGrange said. “They run everything. I exist so that they can have a room to work in. They’re learning how to build websites and program and do graphic design.”

John David Pressman, a junior in the class, explains how the repair lab works with an enthusiasm and exhaustive degree of detail that can only be described as relentless. While he appreciates being able to send computers to those in need in Ghana and Guatemala and Liberia through OLPC, he’s noticed one recurring fault in many of the malfunctioning OLPC machines that he’s needed to fix.

“Your computer’s clock runs off a separate power source, like a really big watch battery,” Pressman said. “Those clocks have to be fed that power all the time, or else they’ll reset to Jan. 1, 1970, which is the Linux default. The problem with that is that the computer can’t process any files whose dates are in the past or in the future, so when you turn it on, it says, ‘I’m dying here,’ and just hangs on the boot screen.”

The computers he’s received from the community offer a far broader diversity of challenges, although one memorable PC tower appeared not only to have been corroded, but also assembled in an entirely counterintuitive way.

“It wasn’t the user’s fault,” Pressman said. “The manufacturer had its insides not following any standard. They put the hard drive on top of the battery, which is the hottest part of the machine.”

While Pressman is thinking he’ll probably go into software programming instead after graduation, fellow juniors such as Christian Bakken and Joel Scott are already planning on studying applied electrical engineering and computer science in college.

“I’m always finding out something new here,” Scott said. “It broadens my knowledge base, and it feels good to give back to people.”

While Mason Totten, also a junior, suspects he’ll mainly pursue computer repair as a side-hobby as an adult, he expressed a similarly altruistic sentiment about his work.

“Everyone deserves to be able to access as much information as they can,” Totten said. “Hopefully, this will allow them to explore the Internet.”

At the same time, Scott and Bakken aren’t above relishing those occasions when computer owners donate their malfunctioning machines, rather than asking for them to be repaired and returned, because such computers become the subjects of their own experiments.

“Donated computers are as exciting as Christmas presents,” Bakken said. “We’ve even made a Frankenstein new computer entirely out of spare parts.”

While the students are happy to pitch in for the community, LaGrange pointed out that their work is not inexpensive, and welcomed members of the community to contact him at paul_lagrange@msvl.k12.wa.us about making donations of their own.