The Story of TTCG, Chapter 2

Because the SSCC model is designed to connect multiple courses and disciplines to community-identified projects, Connie initially reached out to two colleagues – Prof.

Image contains: grass, tree, and outdoor scene at SIUE with a student holding an SIUE Cougars banner Sandra Weissinger in Sociology and Prof. Anne Werner in Construction Management – to see if they might be interested in incorporating the project into their senior capstone courses. Both agreed.  

Prof. Weissinger teaches and does research on African American communities in the College of Arts and Sciences. Prof. Werner teaches and does research on construction and structural materials, construction methods, and engineering education for k-12 students.

Image contains: sky, tree and exterior of James Avant Elementary School

On Thursday, July 18, 2019, Derissa, Sandra, and Connie met at a local restaurant for lunch to get acquainted and to learn about Derissa’s vision for WP. Derissa shared that she owned one-third of an acre lot in WP just a few blocks from James Avant Elementary School, where the community garden would eventually be located. Because Derissa is a proud resident and passionate teacher in WP, she was clear in her desire that the children of WP have access to the same resources that children in more affluent communities have. Derissa noted that her students and their families struggle with food insecurity and lack safe places to play. Derissa, furthermore, is deeply concerned about the lack of educational enrichment opportunities for WP children. As children from more affluent communities continue to gain access to resources such as STEM centers and cutting-edge technology, the class and racial equity gaps will continue to grow between her students and others.  

Washington Park is located in St. Clair County, is less than 3 square miles of land, and borders East St. Louis to the west. WP currently has a population of around four thousand residents, down from approximately 7,500 residents in 1990. Just over 18 percent of the population is 14 years old or younger. WP is home to James Avant Elementary School (JAES), where Derissa teaches. JAES serves approximately 500 children enrolled in grades kindergarten through fifth grade. 

The partnership between Derissa and SSCC kicked off in the fall semester with three sociology courses and one construction management course engaged with The Tiny Children’s Garden (TTCG)On August 22 2019, the first week of the semester, Derissa came to SIUE to meet the students in SOC 515 and to share her vision and goals.  

In our next chapter, you’ll meet the first cohort of students. Stay tuned! 

The Story of The Tiny Children’s Garden

Welcome to our first blog post of the 2020 year! Our first series of posts were provided by students enrolled in SOC 515, Research Methods & Study Design in Sociology, and focused on where their course readings intersected with their work in The Tiny Children’s Garden (TTCG). This new series will focus on the story of how TTCG came to be. We hope you enjoy the first installment… 

Photo of the lot that will become The Tiny Children's Garden.

TTCG, before it was TTCG

The story of TTCG’s partnership with SIUE’s Successful Communities Collaborative (SSCC) begins in early spring 2019, when Mayor Rickie Thomas of the Village of Washington Park, Illinois, was contacted by SSCC to be its municipal partner in 2019-2020. SSCC is a cross-disciplinary program that supports year-long partnerships between the University and communities in Illinois to advance local resilience and sustainability based on community-identified environmental, social, and economic projects. SSCC’s mission is to connect Illinois communities with the students, faculty, and other resources of the University. Following receipt of the letter, Mayor Thomas requested a meeting with members of the SSCC team to discuss how Washington Park (WP) might partner with SSCC. While WP and SSCC have not yet found a way to partner, Mayor Thomas kept SSCC’s contact information and shared it with Derissa Davis, WP resident, James Avant Elementary School teacher, community leader, and property owner when she approached him with her idea to build a community garden for WP children. Davis soon reached out to SSCC’s director Connie Frey Spurlock who is also a sociology professor and sustainability educator. Derissa’s initial call came through on Friday, March 31, 2019. Derissa and Connie immediately decided to partner to build what became known as The Tiny Children’s Garden.   

Stay tuned for the next installment when you’ll meet Professors Sandra Weissinger (Sociology) and Anne Werner (Construction Management).