ANTIOCH -- It's been a few years since Jarrod Aghily was a student at Jack London Elementary.
But, he clearly still digs it -- literally and figuratively.
The current Dozier-Libbey Medical student recently completed his Eagle Scout project: A shade structure for the school's garden. And, with the help of another Scout, Ryley Palmer, wooden benches were added under that arbor.
Part of the draw to head back to Jack London was his former instructor, Mary Allan.
"She was a favorite teacher because of how well she connected to her students and because of her fantastic style of teaching," he said.
Last November, he decided to help his former school.
"The ultimate goal is to make an outdoor classroom for the students to enjoy," he said.
Aghily and his two siblings attended the school, and so "I wanted to give back to the school as much as I could."
When Aghily realized the project was "too much for one person," he ended teaming up with Palmer, a fellow Troop 153 Scout and a Deer Valley senior.
Palmer built benches, posting them into the ground under the shade structure as his Eagle project.
The project took about a month to finish.
The 17-year-old said, "Having have had so many choices where I could have done my project, I am glad that Jack London let me do this for them; I could not have asked for a better team to work with."
He added that the shade structure turned out better than expected. " ... better than I could have envisioned it." On the day of construction, it took a team of 30 workers about four hours to complete. It included bolting, staining and assembling.
Now that the project is finished, Jack London students will be able to spend more time in the garden, "I know they will be happy about that," said Terri Hamilton, London second-grade teacher. "If it were up to the kids, they'd be gardening every day."
Hamilton won a grant in 2008 for schools seeking "to integrate a garden within the school curriculum." From there, a Jack London family (the Pantells) "donated all the time and labor toward the construction of our six garden boxes. Then, many other families in our community helped fill the garden boxes with (soil) -- one wheelbarrow at a time," Hamilton said.
"It was great working with together with our community," she said.
Since then, students have planted a variety of vegetables each year, "which are enjoyed in the classroom."
The harvest has even been sold during small farmers markets held at the school. The funds help the team purchase more seeds.
Last year, master gardener Ken DeSilva installed an irrigation drip-system (funded by the school's PTA). He volunteers his time working with the students and teachers," she said. "Also, Mary Allan is very involved.
"It takes a village to grow a garden." Hamilton said.
She said the Scouts' project will "take our garden to a whole new level." Principal Debra Harrington said: "(The) structure is a beautiful addition to our school. Having the garden at London has triggered a renewed interest in nutrition. We appreciate the work of the Scouts and families ..."
Retired teacher Mary Allan is pleased for the Scouts and the school, knowing the benefits of it all.
"All kids embrace learning in an environment where they are engaged fully in the process, and the school garden accomplishes that," said Allan, who was the 2001 California Teacher of the Year.
"Children are naturally curious about growing things," she said. "Efforts are made to tap into that curiosity and weave it into what they are studying in the classroom: ancient civilizations, measuring, energy cycles, multiplication, senses ... and more."
She added that a winter garden in California "coincides beautifully with a traditional school year calendar. We plant in September. We harvest and cook from December through June, often getting two major harvest seasons a year."
Aghily said he's "relieved that it all went so great. I feel the project went very well, from the construction to the finished product."
Palmer and Aghily are scheduled to receive their Eagle Scout honors this July.
Contact Trine Gallegos at firstname.lastname@example.org.