The students of were in for a surprise on Tuesday morning.
After an extended weekend because of the Martin Luther King holiday, the gardens behind the middle school had been transformed from boxes overgrown with weeds to garden beds filled with a variety of healthy young plants.
Thanks to the efforts of the Volunteer Center of San Gabriel Valley, about 30 to 40 people arrived at Clifton on Monday to tend to the community garden beds. On flyers for two different projects, the organization pledged to "Make it a day on, not a day off," on Martin Luther King Day.
At one project, volunteers revitalized the garden at Clifton. Volunteers also assisted the staff at the San Gabriel Mission with their gardens and other maintenance work.
Brandon Murphy, a Monrovian from the Volunteer Center of San Gabriel Valley, said the garden boxes at Clifton Middle School were built on in October. Murphy also said that it was fitting to resume work on the garden on Martin Luther King Day.
"He was a man that wanted people to serve. That’s what we’re doing, " said Murphy.
Gabriel Mancilla, an academic counselor at La Causa’s YouthBuild charter school in East Los Angeles, echoed the sentiment.
"One of the key things is serving community," said Mancilla. "We should be helping out each other whenever we can."
Mancilla said that about 30 students from the charter school had come to Clifton Middle School that day. The students volunteer throughout the Los Angeles area as part of their curriculum. Prior to helping with the project at Clifton Middle School, students had also built garden boxes and installed solar panels.
Earlier that morning, volunteers had cleared the boxes and pathways of overgrowth.
"It looks ten times better already. We weeded all the beds," said Rebecca Romero, a student at Cal Poly Pomona.
Romero said that she and other volunteers plan on returning to maintain the beds.
"It’s a great bunch of kids," said Mel Crudge, a resident Monrovian and a retired Parks Manager for the city of La Verne. Crudge, who earned a degree in Agronomy from California Polytechnic, was lending his expertise in landscaping to assist other participants on the project. He said that he found out about the project through Yvonne Savio of the County of Los Angeles’s Master Gardening Program.
Crudge showed a group of students how to prepare a raised bed by raking, hoeing, and distributing the potting soil. The designated student "leaders" were going to return to the other plots and show the volunteers what Crudge had demonstrated.
"Hey, where’s my leader?" a student called out.
"They’re learning so they can teach us," said Sayaka Ponce, a history teacher at La Causa’s YouthBuild charter school.
Armed with rakes, hoes, and gardening gloves, the students set out to work. As they gardened, they joked, sang snippets of songs, and teased one another about getting "farmers tans" in the sunny, 80 degree weather.
Students prepared plants donated from by watering them with a garden hose. Plants included tomatoes, artichokes, lettuce, cabbage, chives, cilantro, brussel sprouts, spinach, basil, thyme, rosemary, catnip, lavender, and strawberries.
"That smells good," Ponce said, passing around a basil plant.
Under Crudge’s watchful eye, they sorted the plants. Larger plants like artichokes and tomatoes needed extra room. Strawberry plants could be planted closer together, in boxes that got more shade.
"This needs about four feet of space," Miguel Carpio, a student at La Causa’s YouthBuild charter school, told the group, as he held a tomato plant. The group found themselves running out of space and later traded one of their artichoke plants for a rosemary plant.
After this, the volunteers carefully pulled the plants out of their containers and planted them in the beds. Crudge inspected the plots to make sure the plants were properly spaced and adequately covered with soil.
In the meantime, 75 volunteers were also helping at the San Gabriel Mission. Among the volunteers were students from Cal Poly, San Gabriel High School, and San Gabriel Mission High School.
According to Cindy Portillo, the Youth Volunteer Coordinator of the Volunteer Center of San Gabriel Valley, and Chuck Lyons, the Director of Publicity at San Gabriel Mission, the maintenance they performed could have taken months or a year under ordinary circumstances.
"They did a tremendous amount," said Lyons.
The students pruned, cleaned a large water fountain, painted and applied water sealant to signs, and applied red paint to the curb in the parking lot. They also leveled the ground in preparation for the repair of a wall that had begun to fall in the rain, and molded adobe bricks.
Lyons, who also contributes to keeping up the grounds, said that ordinarily, painting the curb alone could take a week or more, but the students finished the job in two hours. He said what made the day so wonderful was not only that the students were willing to help, but they also brought a cheerful attitude.
"Everyone had a great time," said Lyons.
"They came out here, they gave their best, and had a really good time doing it," said Portillo. She also made sure to provide lunch to the volunteers at both projects, an added benefit which gave students an opportunity to sit down and share a meal with each other.
According to Portillo, "both projects focused on community involvement, and I think that’s what the students really wanted to do."
"What better day to do that than Martin Luther King Day?" she added.