Parents, teachers worried about future of Van Buren Middle School garden program after class is cut

Education

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – An Albuquerque middle school is cutting a unique gardening class and community members worry it’s the wrong decision. Travis McKenzie worked in the garden at Van Buren Middle School for over a decade. It’s an experience that inspired him to go from the non-profit sector to becoming a teacher and creating his own elective class.

“I’ve actually been working in that garden for over a decade,” said McKenzie. “We were able to launch a successful garden elective and the following year we continued it.”

The elective teaches students how to grown their own food while maintaining a 3,500 square foot garden. McKenzie says it also teaches them problem solving skills like food security and providing vegetables to families in need. McKenzie says the new principal of Van Buren recently notified him his garden classes — originally set to expand this year — were canceled.

“I received an email on June 17th reassigning me,” said McKenzie, who says he was reassigned to social studies for all three grades. “Because the reassignment was via email, there was no room for discussion. I wasn’t approached by the new administration, why they might need to discontinue the garden elective.”

He says this leaves the future of the garden — like who will care for it — up in the air, as much of it was tended through the elective classes. McKenzie says he worries what will come of the decade of work students put in, and parents say they’ve emailed the school with the same worries. A few got a response from the principal saying the garden is expanding, but McKenzie says he hasn’t received any information about its future.

“This elective class was monumental for APS as a whole district, and to see it just dismantled by a new administration without input from me, the instructor, without input from the community or students,” said McKenzie. “It’s open air, we’re outside, we can social distance the students and they’re cultivating healthy, nutritious food that we can then process properly and distribute to families in need.”

McKenzie says after the Van Buren news went public, Polk Middle school reached out for help launching their own garden program. He’s transferring there this fall to teach and get it off the ground. In the meantime, he says he’s open to helping Van Buren find someone to keep the garden going.

“I was approached by Polk Middle School that they were trying to start an agricultural science magnet school concept,” said McKenzie. “One door closes and another door opens. I think in all of this, I want to work with the community to keep this garden alive.”

KRQE News 13 has reached out to the new principal of Van Buren Middle School, Alyssa Sanchez Miranda. We have not yet heard back.

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