When the bell sounds and many Pine Tree ISD students are heading home for the day, some of the students at the district’s PACE campus are voluntarily staying later to put on their gardening gloves.

Students in 5th through 9th grades at PACE are given the chance to work in a garden that physical education teacher Jim Manning said helps with student success.

“We had to pull the roots out of the ground to get the ground ready for the plants; otherwise they wouldn’t grow,” he said. “Really, applying to our students here as dealing with roots, things that maybe they’re struggling with and as we help them work through those areas then we can plant positive things in their minds, their hearts to help them be ready when they leave.”

PACE, which stands for Pirate Alternative to Continuing Education, is a disciplinary alternative education placement, or DAEP, campus for students in first through 12th grades who have broken the student code of conduct.

Manning said the goal is for students to leave the PACE campus and never return as they become successful on the other campuses. He believes bringing students and staff together in the garden can help.

“When you develop interaction with students they have a tendency to bring up things they wouldn’t normally,” he said. “You’re opening up conversation without ever saying a word because you’re interacting with someone. The main purpose is to grow plants; when we have a purpose, then we start interacting and it just opens doors to build relationships.”

Junior Dylon Rush is one of the students learning about socialization in the garden.

“Some of these people I don’t even know, we socialize sometimes out there,” he said. “It’s not mandatory. It’s voluntary, and I want to do it. I love to do it.”

Rush learned how to garden with his grandfather, he said. During his time in the garden, he is able to help other students who have not gardened before.

Liliana Rodriguez, a sophomore, also went into the garden with previous experience.

“I like to garden because ever since I was little, I love to help my mom take care of the plants, water the plants and stuff like that,” she said. “And we need to keep the Earth good and natural.”

Rodriguez said she enjoys the fellowship that comes with time in the garden, but she also enjoys learning more about the plants and taking care of them.

PACE Principal Shalonda Adams said the students got to be involved in selecting which vegetables and herbs to grow and the planning process.

While some staff help facilitate, Adams said the students do the work on their own and some emerge as natural leaders and develop leadership skills. They also take turns making sure everything is watered and weeded.

The garden is all about building relationships and learning how to make a difference, Adams said.

“A lot of the students here they normally are not friends or even associates at their other campus,” she said. “But when we provide them with these different types of activities, it allows them to have the opportunity to learn about other people: black, white, all different races, sexes, genders, ages, so forth and so on. They work together on a common project.”