Amy Szymanksi Makes Hope Farm Thrive at MLK High

by 
Tara Campbell, Food Moxie Youth Education Coordinator
Amy Szymanski, left, with with MLK students.

As Food Moxie celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, we are taking the opportunity to thank those who have helped us reach this point. Amy Szymanski, teacher liaison for our horticultural therapy program, Hope Farm, at Martin Luther King High School, particularly deserves recognition.

Amy is the “Life Skills Vocational Itinerant” teacher at MLK. She facilitates community-based job-training programs for students in the Special Education program. Working with some 50 students a week, she takes them to organizations all over the city so they can gain work experience and exposure to various careers. She also teaches work-readiness skills, self-advocacy and other skills necessary for independent living. She even helps students learn to navigate public transportation! Amy is the only vocational specialist at MLK, and her services are in high demand. Many people would be overwhelmed by the enormous workload, but Amy has a special kind of passion and energy that helps her excel. 

Food Moxie works closely with Amy at Hope Farm. Started in 2014, this garden and greenhouse on the grounds of the high school in Germantown, it provides horticultural therapy for young people with autism and intellectual disabilities. Amy’s been integral from the start, ensuring that Hope Farm aligns with both student needs and educational standards. She takes students to the garden and greenhouse twice a week during the school year, and once a week during the summer. Students learn propagation, harvesting, safe food handling and garden care and maintenance. They also learn about nutrition and healthy eating, functional academic skills (real-life applications for reading, writing, math and science) and environmental science. In 2016, Hope Farm served 83 students and provided 144 hours of programming.

Amy loves gardening, and her enthusiasm infects her students. In our very first class project back in 2014, they eagerly pushed wheelbarrows full of garden tools and carried buckets of water through crowded hallways to get from the greenhouse out back to plant flowers at the school’s front entrance. 

Amy stayed after school for days to help us get ready for our opening celebration at the end of the 2014-2015 school year, carting trash to the dumpster in her van and bringing her family to help weed and plant an herb garden. When we needed refrigeration for our produce for a month, she not only negotiated a space for us in the cafeteria, she carried heavy bins from the farm to the fridge — about the equivalent of a city block but with two flights of stairs. 

She also works tirelessly to make sure we always have the support of the school and the School District, both of which are essential for the program’s success. 

It is truly a joy to work with Amy. She is passionate, energetic and flexible, able to solve almost any problem and make everyone laugh in tense situations. We thank her for her dedication, and look forward to many more years of our successful partnership.