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Susan Eckert preps a bed in Rand Park. COURTESY JACOB SCHAPIRO

By DAPHNE HANSELL
For Montclair Local

Community engagement is blooming at Montclair High School. 

Friends of Rand Park is a club that tends the community garden in the park next to the George Inness Annex. In 2016, Susan Eckert, a science teacher at Montclair High School, was looking for an activity to do with her AP Biology students after they had completed the AP test in May. She noticed there were 12 raised garden beds going unused in Rand Park, 141 Park St. She had her AP Biology students plant vegetables that she watered over the summer. 

“I was looking for a way to connect what they had learned in class to the real world,” she said. 

The following year, she created the club so interested students from all parts of the school could help to plant. The club now has a core of 10 members. Every spring, the club plants vegetables they harvest and donate to Toni’s Kitchen food pantry in the fall. They meet every Thursday to organize the work that needs to be done for the coming week. 

The current president, Jacob Schapiro, a senior at the high school, is currently organizing a Fall Festival for Thursday, Nov. 21, 2:45-5 p.m., for people to help clear out the garden beds.

Then festival-goers and plant garlic and tulip bulbs that the town gives the high school every year. 

“There are few plants that can survive the New Jersey winter,” Schapiro explained. They plan to have hot chocolate and light snacks for volunteers. “We are aware that it’s a bit cold, but we hope students will seize on this opportunity to make a difference for their school community.” 

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Montclair High School Teen works in the garden. COURTESY JACOB SCHAPIRO

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He became involved in the club after taking AP Biology with Eckert, and participating in the class gardening. He joined the club last year, and became president at the beginning of this school year. Last year they planted, peas, tomatoes, eggplants, basil, and lettuce. 

Over the summer a combination of student volunteers and Eckert keep the plants alive. At the beginning of the new school year, club members harvested the vegetables and took them to Toni’s Kitchen. 

“The hardest part of this is definitely organizing people to water the plants,” Schapiro said. 

This year, Eckert and Schapiro plan to donate some of the vegetables grown to be used in the school cafeteria. 

“Donating to the school is contributing to the school in a direct way,” Schapiro said. 

This year, he would like to extend the range of the club. 

“During the winter we don’t have as much physical gardening to do, but I think there’s still work to be done,” he said. “There are all kinds of things the town could be doing to help our environment.” 

The club plans to take up local environmental issues. Their goal is to lobby the town board and mayor to outlaw single use plastics and styrofoam in the town, some of the main sources of litter in Rand Park. Schapiro said,

“We hope the town notices our work on a small scale and implements larger changes.”

Daphne Hansell is a Montclair High School senior.

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Plants in the garden. COURTESY JACOB SCHAPIRO
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