Learning for Life

From Kindergarten through grade 6, students at the AIM School learn how to read, write, add and subtract, and more book-smart education like most of us had the privilege to learn in elementary school. However, there’s something else these children are learning – they are developing life skills that will protect their futures and break the cycle of exploitation in their community. 

A hydroponic system built to grow vegetables at AIM School. Photo by Derek Helt

One lesson, in particular, is causing excitement for both teachers and students alike. In some unused space on the side of the building, community garden boxes and hydroponic units were created to help students learn how to plant, maintain, and harvest various fruits and vegetables! 

AIM School Director, Hong Leang Eng, explained that after the COVID shutdowns, students were having trouble expressing their feelings and emotions. Having projects like this gardening lesson gives the students an outlet to be creative, work hard, and problem-solve together. In fact, students and teachers work together to decide what to grow and how to do it well! The students get to be involved in the whole process so they can really take ownership of it. After COVID brought a time of uncertainty and inconsistency, this project helps the student regain confidence and stability as they learn the process of how plants grow. 

We asked Eng – What do students love most about this project? 

Students have been able to be a part of the entire process – they helped bring in materials, plant seeds, maintain the garden, and harvest! Teachers worked together to create a schedule for who has to care for the garden each day. Eng said, “A few students were walking down the hallway one day. I asked, ‘Where are you guys going?’ With so much joy, they said, ‘It’s our turn to water the garden!’ They love taking their turn to participate.” 

We also wanted to know – What are the teachers’ favorite parts?

Eng shared that, actually, the teachers were a little nervous about this gardening lesson – some of them didn’t know how to garden themselves! How were they supposed to teach the kids?! However, as they learned with the kids, their excitement built as well. When they were first able to harvest some vegetables, they were overjoyed, just like the students! 

By growing morning glory, Khmer spinach, lettuce, green onion, and more, the kids are learning a skill that they can take home with them. Most of the students come from low-income, vulnerable families. AIM School exists to protect these children from trafficking and exploitation – giving them a safe place to learn during the day. But our team also cares about what happens to their students when they go home! By having these skills, the students can share them with their families, have a productive outlet and hobby at home, and bring them into their future as they develop their passions and interests. Learning to garden doesn’t only teach these kids how to grow vegetables, it teaches them how to problem-solve, manage timelines, and wait for results. These skills will help them in whatever they pursue in the future! Overall, education is a vital part of breaking the cycle of exploitation. As Eng says, “When they have education and life skills, they will have opportunities. And when they have opportunities, they will have hope. Hope is what will end human trafficking.”

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