Seventeen years ago, a group of recent UC Davis graduates living in Sacramento, learned that the Gardenland Northgate neighborhood of Sacramento, an area with one of the lowest average family incomes, had one of the highest concentrations of children in the Sacramento area. Knowing this, the group initiated safe and meaningful afterschool activities for elementary children in a local park, and the GreenHouse was born.
The GreenHouse continues to support that community with a full-time staff of five, through community development, family support, and after school academic and spiritual development programs for youth through their first year of college.
Ten years ago, students and faculty of the Sacramento Waldorf School began partnering with the GreenHouse. In that time, students and faculty have volunteered hundreds of hours; leading art, music, theater, and cooking workshops, creating and staffing a summer program for rising middle schoolers, and providing 1st through 6th graders with weekly or biweekly homework help. At workdays open to the entire high school, we have rebuilt fences, created a safe path to the local shopping center and through the community garden, built raised beds for the garden where children grow food that they cook in weekly workshops, designed and fund a spring break arts camp, and repaired and repainted the building where the GreenHouse meets. Sarah Winfield, Performing Arts teacher, provides costumes for GreenHouse theater performances, and free tickets for all GreenHouse students to Sacramento Waldorf School theater programs, and Farmer Steve has welcomed the GreenHouse to the farm for summer field trips. Each year, approximately 5 Sacramento Waldorf School students tutor math and language arts on Mondays and Wednesdays, and every summer, Sacramento Waldorf School students assist with the GreenHouse summer programs. Last summer, Daniela Gianettoni taught a ballet workshop, and graduate Asa Williams took the lead role in the GreenHouse summer theater production, so the show could go on!
The most important aspect of the GreenHouse is in not in the academic support or in the arts workshops, but in creating the positive relationships that help students succeed. Most GreenHouse students are working below grade level and attend schools were over 80% of their peers are also working below grade level. By meeting with the same GreenHouse students each week, Sacramento Waldorf School students are caring role models who can give some kids the stability to begin to achieve more academically.
Tyler Cochran-Branson, a 12th grader at Sacramento Waldorf School has been a volunteer at the GreenHouse for the last three years. “I started volunteering at the GreenHouse for a number of reasons: I love kids and have always loved school, so tutoring seemed like the perfect intersection of both. I was also very inspired by Dr. Gruhn’s dedication to the GreenHouse. I love every Monday with the kids. I especially enjoy seeing kids I tutored three years ago and watching their academic and social growth. The kids there are sweet and smart and see the world through an entirely different lens than I do. Through my Waldorf education, I have been pushed to understand the world through different lenses, so volunteering at the GreenHouse has provided me with a perspective of the world I could not have gained anywhere else.”
Ariana Zwern is also a senior and is in her second year as a volunteer at the GreenHouse. “My volunteer work at the GreenHouse, to provide educational and social-emotional development opportunities to students from low-income, primarily immigrant families, has been a defining part of my high school experience. I spend my time there tutoring 4th & 5th graders in Math and English, as well as participating in activities focused on kindness, tolerance, respect, etc. I volunteer at the GreenHouse because I respect the work that they do and feel that it aligns well with my personal values. By supplementing standard educational practices with an extended exploration of identity, culture, and respectful interpersonal communication, GreenHouse empowers the students to explore who they want to be and what they want to believe while simultaneously being exposed to a variety of backgrounds unlike their own.”
Even though her job is to teach, the most important learning moments for her have taken place outside of the scheduled lessons. “Through working with, befriending, and coming to trust me, some of my students have challenged their implicit biases of Jewish and queer individuals – a beautiful process to behold! And, because of the community’s ethnic and cultural diversity, I too have been exposed to new ideologies. I never thought I’d come to love these kids in quite the way that I do, but there’s something ineffably gorgeous about the raw, authentic friendships I’ve made. I’ll forever cherish the memories I have of goo making contests, everyone-goes-at-once style connect four, learning about alicorns, and using a compass to help my Muslim girls identify the direction of Mecca!”
This year, a record number of seniors besides Tyler and Ariana, volunteer regularly at the GreenHouse including Noa Palumbo, Shuang Feng, Joe DiLullo and Rowan Morkner Brown. Other students who have volunteered with the GreenHouse in the past include Daniella Gianettoni, Riley Day, Harry Li, Zade Alafranji, Kendall Wetterstrom, Delaney Wetterstrom, and Antony Li.