Strolling the well-tended grounds of the Ruch Outdoor Community School (ROCS), it’s hard to imagine that in 2010, the school was almost closed down. Enrollment on the rural campus was too low to generate enough money for the Medford School District. Fortunately, the Applegate community banded together to save the beloved school, which has been around for over a hundred years.
The current ROCS principal, Ryan King, recalls the effort. “It was literally the thirty-plus community partnerships saying ‘No!’ It was really an orchestra of voices.”
Together they came up with a strategy to rebrand it as the “Outdoor Community School.” This new designation allowed them to receive supplemental grants and forge partnerships. It also enabled them to redesign the curriculum to suit the rural lifestyle of its students and place more emphasis on place-based outdoor activities
It was in this context that students, volunteers, and the Applegate Valley’s White Oak Farm were able to seek grants and donations to create a school garden on the ROCS campus. The idea was to design a learning space where students could apply their classroom studies in a “real world,” hands-on way.
For example, the equations that they penciled out on paper could be applied to measuring garden beds. Or their science lessons about seed propagation and germination could be brought to life in the planting of trees, herbs and vegetables. The garden was an asset to art class, too: Instead of drawing and painting indoors, they could bring their supplies outside and draw inspiration from the natural beauty of the garden. Another bonus: They could eat the nutritious fresh produce they grew.
“Basically, our garden is an outdoor learning classroom,” says King.
Last year ROCS received an Innovation grant from A Greater Applegate to expand the garden and to give an AmeriCorps volunteer a budget to develop a garden curriculum. This effort fulfills the Applegate Valley Vision to enhance educational opportunities and health and wellness in the community. It falls under the Vibrant & Liveable portion of the Vision.
“It’s an amazing space. Every time I come up here kids are happy and we hardly have any discipline issues up here,” Ryan says.
He credits the garden and the school’s success overall to the community partnerships. Ryan’s Outpost donated to the garden, as did A Greater Applegate, White Oak farm, The Watershed Council, RVF2S.
“It’s just a spiderweb of connections. It’s not hard to find people in this community that want to help kids and enhance the school. I have to pinch myself every day. I’m so proud of this school.”