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Drew Horticulture Program Strikes Again, Snagging the SET SEG Foundation Excellence Award

In recognition of the ongoing efforts of the Charles R. Drew Transition Center, the Drew Horticulture Program was awarded, for the third time, the Education Excellence Award from the SET SEG for its commitment to teaching students valuable skills. This award continues to help them thrive.

The Drew Horticulture Program is one of ten school programs across the state chosen for the Education Excellence Award which includes a $2,500 grant. Teacher Michael Craig said the Program’s metrics throughout the past two years helped with the application, and the award committee has been able to watch the Program grow since its other two wins in 2018 and 2021.

“When I first got here 13 years ago, we had nothing, and now we are one of the largest farming schools in the country,” said Craig. “The award validates what we do, showcases our work, our relationships, and that we are on the right track.”

Drew Transition Center provides instruction that meets the individual educational needs of special education adult learners 18–26 years of age in achieving vocational and daily living skills that lead to employment and full inclusion into community life. Michael Craig, the Horticulture Program’s Instructor, said that it is the goal to help students build functional independence and build skills that could ultimately lead to employment.

“The Program was started in the Fall of 2012 with our principal and the District’s Office of School Nutrition. We outlined a program where we could grow food on our premises that could be used in school lunches,” said Craig. “The other element of this program was vocational, to help our students gain horticulture skills that could create a path to employment.”

In addition to the Program, the Transition Center offers other vocational programs, such as carpentry and culinary skills. The Program has six greenhouses and one and a half acres of field production space, becoming a national leader in school-based horticulture. The Program provides fresh produce to two local five-star restaurants, Chartreuse and Freya, and to the Detroit Salsa Company.

“In addition to the 2,500-3,000 heads of lettuce we grow per month for the restaurants, we combine that with 50 pounds of peppers and 50 pounds of tomatoes for the Detroit Salsa Company,” said Craig.

When students are working with Craig, he said that he tries to implement his own version of science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM) tactics. Everything is hands-on, from the planting of seeds, to transferring plants and harvesting, teaching proper procedures and through the relationships with the local businesses, entrepreneurial skills.

“The Drew Farm students are learning proper procedures and how to repair things. With our restaurant relationships, they are learning concrete entrepreneurial skills. They see the results when they see the paycheck to help fund the Program comes through. That is the STEAM I think of and what I strive to do for these students every day,” said Craig. “The work is repetitive, and every day is trying to find the STEAM objectives for each individual students each hour we have them.”

Steven Phillips was a student in the Program in 2016, and in a letter written to the Michigan Department of Education said that the Program and the Transition Center helped him learn how to use tools, work in the school garden and grow entrepreneurial skills in selling the produce grown at Drew.

“Our Program here at Drew, and the other programs at the Center as well, is a special place,” said Craig. “We want our students to be involved in the community and this is one way we can help.