Usually the hard work of growing produce leads to a reward -- the fruits (and vegetables) of your labor.

Usually the hard work of growing produce leads to a reward -- the fruits (and vegetables) of your labor.

Brookpark Middle School's Trojan Garden project for special education students works in reverse.

At the beginning of the school year, eighth-graders get to sample some of the produce harvested from the previous year's plantings.

"It helps spark their interest in the garden project," said educational aide Renae Stevenson.

The eighth-graders then get to plant their own crops, but because they will be in high school next year, it's this year's seventh-graders who will reap the rewards in the fall.

The project is in its fourth year and has been supported by grants from the South-Western City Schools Educational Foundation.

"The foundation money helps pay for the seeds, the tools the students use, the fence we put around the beds -- everything," Stevenson said.

Being able to participate in the project is a reward for the eighth-grade students, she said.

"It's a reward for behaving the way they're supposed to," Stevenson said.

Earlier this year, students planted seeds and they have been nurturing the young plants in their classroom, she said.

The students are scheduled this week to transfer the plants to the five 3 foot by 8 foot beds located behind the school. They will be tending the garden over the summer.

"We selected a variety of fruits and vegetables this year," Stevenson said, including cucumbers, tomatoes, watermelon and cantaloupe.

"This year, we're also planting flowers, both wildflowers and sunflowers," she said.

The garden project involves academics as well as physical labor, Stevenson said.

Students use math skills in charting the growth and quantity of the crop and learn about the science of gardening, she said.

"They are also learning life skills and learning about the need to work hard and how to work collaboratively on a project," Stevenson said.

"It's fun to help the teacher out and do something for next year's students," said eighth-grader Duane Kapan. "Plus, it's going to be fun to get a chance to get out of the classroom and go outside and work on the garden."

Eighth-grader Brett Fowler said participating in the garden project has made him more appreciative of all the effort it takes to produce the fruits and vegetables available at the grocery store.

"I think food tastes better when it's fresh out of the ground" and unprocessed, he said.

"My grandmother always plants a garden during the summer and I've always tried to help her out," Fowler said.

This summer, he'll have a better understanding about gardening, he said.