SOUTH RIVER – When St. Mark Christian Academy officially opened on Sep. 1, 2021, they “broke ground,” becoming the second Coptic school in the United States and the only Coptic school in the northeast region. On April 26, the faculty and students at SMCA congregated to “break ground” again, but this time, for a Learning Garden.
According to a press release, the vision for the Learning Garden is to create an educational and functional space for learning and fun. The statement mentions the need for assistance in collecting herbs and vegetables, obtaining gardening supplies and equipment, and in digging gardening beds.
Once completed, the garden will feature picnic tables, multiple garden beds, storage for garden tools, composters, and an irrigation system.
Furthermore, students will have the opportunity to learn about the basics of gardening in a natural and hands-on environment. The practicality of the garden will encourage students to think critically as they plant seeds, harvest small crops, and solve problems related to different plants and climates.
When asked if the Learning Garden is a metaphor for the growth of SMCA, Principal Theresa Pasqua acknowledged the commonalities between the two situations.
“It’s exciting. It shows growth. It shows that we’re thinking outside the box. We want to offer our students all different kinds of opportunities and different ways to learn. What better way of learning than getting your hands dirty, playing in the dirt, and seeing something grow.
“It’s planting those seeds and watching everything grow. Planting the seed for September 2021 and now for the 2022-23 school year, we’re already growing. Absolutely a metaphor, we’re making it into a reality,” she said.
Evelyn Galabi, a pre-K4 teacher, also believes the garden will provide new opportunities for students to learn about the importance of sharing.
“I think it’s going to be great. We’re hoping that we can flourish in terms of planting vegetables so maybe we can contribute to some shelters around here, give some food, and we can teach giving to the children in that way.
“But that’s our hope and our aspiration for this garden,” Galabi said.
The school is currently home to a relatively small population of 70 students from Pre-K to third grade.
Despite SMCA’s humble beginnings, Pasqua expressed excitement about the possibility of expansion in the future.
“When this opportunity became available, I couldn’t wait to interview for it because I knew that I would be able to help them grow the school and make the school successful. So far, we’re doing okay. We’re doing really well. Right now, enrolled for next year, we have over 100 students and it’s still very early in the game. We’re expecting to be somewhere between 125 and 130.
“Over the next couple of years, I would like to fill the school up to about 350 Pre-K to eighth grade. Hopefully we’ll fill all those classrooms,” Pasqua said.
For more information on St. Mark Christian Academy, visit https://stmarkacademy.com/