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Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

Students Plant a Garden and Cultivate an Image

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Silvio O. Conte Middle School and C.H. McCann High School students joined forces to create a middle school garden.
North Adams- They came, they saw, and they cultivated.

A collaborative youth effort that included the United Neighboring Interdependent Trusted Youth group and students enrolled at the Silvio O. Conte Middle School and the Charles H. McCann Technical High School has left the middle school campus with a lush new garden and a trio of well-constructed wooden benches.

A FAB Idea

Known as “Operation: FAB,” the flowers-and-benches venture has also given the participating students a sense of accomplishment.

On June 14, McCann students joined Conte students at the middle school for a pizza celebration and a formal opening of the garden. Students talked about why they launched the project.

Several middle school students said that they became discouraged when the school received bursts of negative media attention earlier in the school year. The school grounds also needed a bit of a makeover, students said.


A view of a new middle school garden.
And that’s when the seeds of an idea sprouted.

“We took the initiative,” said 14-year-old Conte student and UNITY member Ellyn Robare. “Our school is quite old, and we thought by working together and planting flowers, we could make it nicer.”

Conte student Hope Benoit, 14, said the students believed that they could improve the grounds and at the same time, demonstrate that middle school students are engaged in positive endeavors.

“We wanted to beautify the school,” she said. “We wanted to get involved.”

The Multi-School Connection

Benoit is a UNITY member, and she and about a dozen others with a Conte/UNITY connection decided to bring their idea to the UNITY group.

“One of the really good things about UNITY is that we get to meet people from different schools,” Hope said. “And we get to develop leadership.”

Enter several UNITY members who attend the McCann school. The high school students believed the project was very worthwhile, and they approached the school’s carpentry program instructors and students and asked if benches could be built at McCann. The short answer was “yes,” said McCann machine technology student and UNITY Youth Council member Craig Bard, 17.

“I went to Conte and I liked it,” Bard said. “I did think that the school could use some sprucing up and I thought that this would be a good project. When I was at Conte, I had some really good teachers and I thought that this would be a good way to pay back. I knew that McCann students could make the benches and this seemed like a great way to show a positive image of both schools.”

McCann student and UNITY Youth Council member Craig Bard


McCann freshman and UNITY member Jeanna Tinney,14, said she liked the idea of working with the middle school students.

“I think doing things with other kids shows that McCann students can be good mentors,” she said.

Getting The Job Done

The FAB group brought their plan to members of the Drury High School-based North Adams Youth Council, and secured $1,500 in funding from the council. The project unfolded throughout the spring as benches were crafted and an area along the East Main Street side of the campus was readied for new plantings. The new greenery and flowering plants were added to the site over the past few weeks.

“It was a lot of work,” said Ellyn.

Much assistance came from Molly Lewis, who works at the North Adams Public Schools Greenhouse Project on South Church Street.

“She was so great and helped us so much,” said UNITY adult advisor Shannon Barsotti. “The kids picked out the plants after Molly taught us a lot about plants and planting. We really learned a lot.”

“We saw a way to make something nice and we did it,” said Ellyn.


Jeanna Tinney said she enjoyed working with students from another school.
UNITY is a youth development program focused on youth service projects and arts programs and is affiliated with the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition. Additional information is available at www.nbccoalition.org, or by calling Caroline Scully or Barsotti at 413-663-7588.

Additional information about the C.H. McCann Technical High School is available at www.mccanntech.org or by calling 413-663-5383.

Additional information about the Silvio O. Conte Middle School is available at www.northadamsschools.com or by calling 413-662-3200.

Susan Bush may be reached at 802-823-9367 or by e-mail at suebush123@adelphia.net.
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