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  • Pam Ray

Building STEAM Bridges: Thelma’s Garden & 21st Century Agriculture

As a HUGE FAN of BUILDING BRIDGES, I am thrilled to feature “Head, Hands & Heart” aligned programs that empower workforce readiness with a holistic education and a whole person approach to preparing our kids for the 21st century STEM/STEAM economy.

Meet Jeff Coles. Jeff is one of many ENTHUSIASTIC CHANGEMAKER STEM/STEAM EDUCATORS whom I've met over the past few years and the visionary behind Thelma’s Garden Education Academy, which he launched in 2019. We share a belief in leveraging the extraordinary potential for all our kids to shine through the joyful exploration of their own passions, talents, and skills; to nurture their enthusiasm to make the world a better place; and to do it starting in their own communities!

As “Thelma’s Garden” emerges from the global pandemic, a growing piece of the puzzle is to expand financial and advocacy partnerships to open doors of opportunity for middle & high school students, in order to address CRITICAL 21ST CENTURY AGRICULTURE CHALLENGES– including global food security, poverty reduction and sustainable natural resource management.

Jeff enthusiastically exclaims that, “Science is IN everything!!” Jeff currently serves on the Governor’s State Advisory Panel for Exceptional Children. His Academy grows leafy green produce indoors and is certified Kentucky Proud. He is associated with the Black Soil farmers support agency, which helps in developing neighborhood victory gardens in Lexington Ky. He’s also associated with Black Bitcoin Billionaires, The 413 Leadership Community, and The RunDown Clubhouse communities– where educating young people is a priority.

THE ESTABLISHED PARTNERSHIPS include the University of Kentucky, College of Agriculture, Food & Environment; Kentucky State University, Cooperative Extension, & Summer Apprenticeship that partnered in 2021 to serve 50 students in an Agri-Sports Camp; and SlakMarket Farm, a local working farm/business committed to developing and maintaining mentoring relationships between urban and rural farmers. These partnerships create a perfect storm for increasing local urban farming in food-scarce communities.

“YOU ARE A BRIDGE!” These were the words of a mother to her son that remain a ringing endorsement and reflection of Jeff’s mission and vision for Thelma’s Garden. Yes, this Academy is beautifully named after his mother.

Jeff’s vision is to pass on the AGRICULTURAL LEGACY he was born into, to future generations by building bridges from the classroom to the real world around urban farming, team building, social/emotional development, and business. Jeff shares that “When adults sow support, students can sow seeds.”

“Head, Hands & Heart” & Thelma’s Garden represent a world where STEM/STEAM are INCLUSIVE to all our students and embrace a whole student approach to learning and working in the 21st century economy. Here is a sample of what that looks like at Thelma’s Garden Education Academy.

l HEAD - What they learn: STEM/STEAM education/skills are taught by practitioners, scientists, and researchers on subject matter that encompasses agriculture, environment, food production, access, and marketing.

l HANDS - How they learn: The hands-on experience in aquaponic and hydroponic agriculture, soil quality, raised garden beds, plus the business aspects of salad-making and farmer’s markets bring it all to life.

l HEART - The Truly Human Connection: This project fosters skills to get along with others, to listen, to cooperate, to coordinate projects and to grow awareness around mental health and self-care by incorporating healthy decision-making around nutrition and lifestyle choices.

Together, we celebrate our CHANGEMAKER MISSION by Building Bridges with new knowledge, awareness and resources that is essential for realigning education and job markets in a 21st century economy; to ensure our kids’ future success as healthy children, successful students, and productive members of the workforce.

To learn even more about these exciting programs, contact:

Pam Ray, Founder & Chief Changemaker

Building STEAM Bridges: Empowering Workforce Readiness

Phone: 703-244-0044

Jeff Coles, Executive Director

Thelma’s Garden Education Academy


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