S. ABINGTON TWP. — Jason Burke, an advanced placement (AP) human geography teacher at Abington Heights High School, was inspired when he learned about Gardens for Single Moms, a volunteer project that builds gardens for single mothers in Orlando, Florida. So much so that he decided to create his own program.
For Burke, the project hits close to home. After all, he was raised by a single mother. As a child, he witnessed the challenges his mother, Alice Manley faced, in order to provide him with the best life possible.
“My mother worked hard to put food on the table,” said Burke. “We always had dinner, she never let us go hungry.”
Burke’s mother worked full-time and often held a second job during tax season. The long hours often led to frozen dinners and fast food.
“I can’t imagine what it would have been like to have to have our own garden,” he said. “I want to give families the opportunities that we didn’t have.”
In relation to the section on agriculture in AP Human Geography, Burke gives his students their own seedlings to grow on the first day of class. The students can keep the seedlings or transfer the plants to the school’s gardens.
Coincidentally, during the same time Burke was teaching the agriculture section this year, he was asked by his mother to read a post she found on Facebook: a story about a grassroots organization called “Gardens for Single Moms.” With the help of volunteers, the organization builds gardens for single mothers. The women are taught how to maintain the garden so they can grow food for their children in the future.
The organization was created by Rob Greenfield in 2018. Greenfield is an environmental activist and is the creator of The Food Waste Fiasco, a campaign that strives to end food waste and hunger in the U.S.
Burke introduced the project to the members of the geography club at Abington Heights. The students loved the garden project and used the same idea for their own final club project. They made a brochure and presented it as a community outreach project at the Abington Heights Volunteers Fair.
The club members chose two Abington Heights students who live in single-parent homes. They then built 8-by-4-foot raised beds for those families to grow their own gardens.
“The kids did all of the work,” Burke explained. “They loaded the soil, planted the plants, put the cages over the tomatoes and wheelbarrowed all of the bags of soil to the gardens. The kids were really into it.”
The club also planted five deck boxes, designed specifically for apartment living, for a group of African migrants living in Scranton. The gardens include watermelons, tomatoes, broccoli, pumpkins and green bell peppers.
Alicon Environmental in Dalton donated 24 bags of soil, Chinchilla Hardware and Garden Center donated garden boxes and the Kakareka family donated plants.
“My plan is to build 100 gardens by the time I’m through,” explained Burke. “I’m thinking about building gardens for the local nursing homes. We can build the gardens higher, so people won’t have to bend over or get out of their wheelchairs. That’s the plan.”
Donations for the gardens are accepted. Contact Burke at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Drawing the lines
Burke also teaches political geography. His students made Pennsylvania electoral maps and voluntarily submitted them to the Draw the Lines PA contest.
The students won first and second place and three honorable mentions in the east region.
The honorary mappers are invited to the announcement of the statewide winners at the state capital building on Sept. 24.
Burke will also be honored at that time. His AP human geography class turned in the most map entries in the state.
Burke was also asked to create a unit lesson plan for other teachers to use.