A growing education

St. Katherine of Siena added an eco-club for students to learn more about gardening and the environment

Ecoculture club: Administration at St. Katherine of Siena added an eco-club so students could learn the ins and outs of gardening. JOHN COLE/TIMES PHOTO

It’s good to come home with dirty hands once in a while. Heck, about 40 students from St. Katherine of Siena in Torresdale do once a week and they’re learning at the same time.

Last school year, educators and administration at St. Katherine’s wanted to add a program for students that would be service based, but which also could help further their education. As a result? “The Hope of Hunger Community Garden” was born.

The school received a grant through “Youth Service America”, which helped kickstart the newly born SKS “Garden Team.” Students in fourth and fifth grades had the opportunity to join this team, which would grow and donate produce to Catholic Social Services Northeast Philadelphia Food Cupboard on Jackson Street. However, by the time that club started to see results in its produce, the school year was coming to a close and students were not seeing their final product to the finish line.


The school recognized that it had started something that could last, but wanted to take the program to the next level. After all, this school was prime for success in this initiative if you ask the Rev. Ronald Ferrier.

Ferrier, who has a passion for gardening, actually received an award from the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society a couple of years prior. He is also responsible for the landscaping on the property to keep St. Katherine’s clean and green. He also saw the kids’ passion for the new club and thought this was just the beginning.

“They love it,” said Ferrier. “They love it.”

Ferrier and company saw some early success, but with the help of the Philadelphia Insectarium and Butterfly Pavilion, 8046 Frankford Ave, the club was ready to evolve and reach new heights.

Starting this school year with the help of John Cambridge, director of the Philadelphia Insectarium and Butterfly Pavillion, the SKS “Garden Team” had become the “Eco Club”. Each week, Cambridge and others from the Insectarium would arrive at St. Katherine’s to engage in different hands-on projects for students. This was the first Catholic school in Northeast Philadelphia to partner with the Insectarium for a year-long club such as this.

“The kids were extremely excited just because they didn’t have any other type of afterschool programs like this that they had ever been exposed to,” said Cambridge.

Fourth-, fifth- and a couple of sixth-graders eagerly await Cambridge’s weekly arrival and wonder what he will bring with him each week. Each time the club meets, it works on several long-term assignments, but also gets to see a couple of new creatures.


The club has seen its fair share of unique creatures this year, but Cambridge believes there are two, specifically, that stood out to the students.

“The orchid mantis,” Cambridge explained. This Malaysian mantis mimics a flower and left a mark on the students right away. “They went absolutely bonkers for that one.”

Cambridge added that the students loved the day when he brought a turtle.

The long-term assignments that the class works on deal with gardening. There are a couple of different plots of land that have their each specific use, and students learn about the importance of each garden.

“Students really get to experience all aspects of taking a random plot of land and turning it into a garden,” said Cambridge.

The best part about the Eco Club? It depends whom you ask. Ferrier believes the students’ passion for their community is what makes them so passionate about the group.

“They’re all interested in the idea of service because that’s what we teach over here is service, to the community and the people,” Ferrier said.

Fourth-grader Kaelyn Everman echoed the sentiments of the landscaping reverend.

“I wanted to help out and be able to have a good time while helping out…”

Everman explained that her favorite activity this year has been planting, though.

For Cambridge, he knows one thing is for certain.

“No kids come home with clean hands. Ever.”

This summer, the Philadelphia Insectarium and Butterfly Pavillion will host its first summer camp. Details at phillybutterflypavilion.com/camps ••

John Cole can be reached at JCole@bsmphilly.com