Blossoming Minds: Cultivating community through media arts and gardens

When Media Arts Teacher Christopher Ziebarth joined the Back Bay High School staff this year, he was tasked with bringing life to the school’s garden area.

“It wasn’t much of anything,” said Ziebarth, whom his students call Mr. Z. “It was just a matter of getting the right materials and finding students who would help.”

Students benefit from working in the garden as it fosters life skills such as responsibility, teamwork and problem-solving. They develop an understanding of ecosystems and botany through hands-on experiences. It also allows students to engage within their school community and be part of something that instills pride in their campus.

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Photos courtesy of NMUSD

Students working in the Back Bay garden

During the school’s Spirit Week, ASB students worked to enhance the area in front of the Tony Vasi Memorial Wall. ASB students worked together with Media Arts students to determine the placement of flowers and the best way to plant the marigolds and stocks.

Dance Teacher and ASB Advisor Cami Marseilles admired the students’ work. “This is the first thing you see when you enter our campus, and the kids took ownership of that and made it something beautiful,” she said.

The initial donation for the garden came from Mrs. John Kruse in memory of her late husband, a member of the Exchange Club of Newport Harbor. Additional funds came from Back Bay’s Parent-Teacher Association, which raised $5,800, and a $3,500 grant from the Newport-Mesa Schools Foundation.

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Plants waiting to be planted in the Back Bay garden

Soon, raised beds and an irrigation system were built. A Buddy Bench donated by the Patrick’s Purpose Foundation was moved near the garden space, providing a place for students and staff to take a break in a peaceful environment.

When it was time to fill the beds, students helped plant corn, green beans and squash, among other vegetables.

“There was a little trial and error. I let the kids decide what to plant, and they discovered what worked well and what didn’t. Some of our plants didn’t make it, but that’s how they learned about growing seasons, and we’ll try again in the right season,” Ziebarth said.

Students in the Media Arts class also worked in the garden by capturing the garden’s development through photographs. In the classroom, a cyanotype – a photograph made with sunlight on special paper – waits on a table to be developed. Across the room, student Alonso Olivera loads an SD card into a camera, as he learns about camera settings before the teacher leads the small class outside.

With a camera slung over his neck, student Yael Martinez adds weeds and fallen leaves to a bucket, then hoses them down for composting. Fellow student Louis Lopez works the soil in a plastic bin, and then plants potatoes while Olivera photographs the action. Music plays in the background.

Through the garden, students have opportunities to expand their skills in the arts while taking on the responsibility of a functioning garden. They learn about the stress-relieving properties of activities such as gardening while promoting a healthier lifestyle through food choices. There are plans for a salsa garden with tomatoes, cilantro and onions.

On a sunny afternoon, Ziebarth offered a cilantro seed to a visitor. “Pinch it between your fingers, then tell me what it smells like,” he said. “It’s a citrus smell, right? Not what you’d expect, huh? That’s my class – not what you’d expect.”


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