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New urban learning garden at Rockdale Academy could be 'heart of the community' in Avondale

Rockdale Academy Urban Learning Garden Unveiling
Cory Sharber
Rockdale Academy Principal Dr. Jaren Finney invited students on the stage to celebrate the new Urban Learning Garden on Sept. 30, 2021.

Rockdale Academy unveiled its two-acre learning garden Thursday, which seeks to create more learning opportunities for its students.

The garden was designed by the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden's horticulture staff and is part of the 2021 Avondale Community Makeover. It includes many amenities like a greenhouse, pollinator gardens, amphitheater and a sensory garden for autistic children.

Staff from the Cincinnati Zoo planted 168 trees, 1,714 shrubs, 6,753 perennials and 3,000 annuals, which makes up roughly 600 varieties of plants at the garden.

Rockdale Academy Principal Jaren Finney, Ed.D., says she's still amazed by how quickly it all came together after the school's summer enrichment program in June.

"July 1 was our last day," Finney said. "We come back August 2 to magic right before our eyes. We did see some of the transformation, so we did see the mature trees that had been planted, but we did not have any of the flowers, we didn't have any of the landscaping beds, so literally, it was magic in four weeks that had occurred on campus."

Rockdale Academy's Global Conservation program focuses on providing students field studies and service-learning projects. Sales from the garden's produce could generate $20,000 a year to reinvest in the program. Finney says this project could give kids exposure to opportunities they may have never had before.

"They're able to learn about agriculture, horticulture and even how to be entrepreneurs," Finney says. "It's just making education come to life, bringing it from the textbook to real world experiences."

Avondale has been considered a food desert for a decade, but with the urban garden and a grocery store opening next year, things are changing. Interim Superintendent Tianay Amat previously taught at Rockdale and says this program could really help going forward.

CPS Interim Superintendent Tianay Amat, Sept. 30, 2021
Cory Sharber
CPS Interim Superintendent Tianay Amat taught at Rockdale Academy during her career in the district and says this program could become the "heart of the community."

"I think it's almost going to be the heart of the community of what's taking place here at Avondale," Amat said.

The project received a $45,000 grant donated by Cincinnati Children's for a solar power system to be used for the greenhouse.

The 2021 Avondale Community Makeover project also includes renovations at South Avondale Elementary, Taft Boys and Girls Club of Greater Cincinnati, Rockdale/Harvey Ballfield and Park, and Blair Ball Fields. A walking trail was also installed at Larona Park.

Cory Sharber attended Murray State University majoring in journalism and political science and comes to Cincinnati Public Radio from NPR Member station WKMS.