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Sowing Seeds of Service

Students collect produce from a campus garden.

Caleb Webb '22 (left) and Anika Krishnamurti '22 collected cucumbers from one of the gardens on campus, part of a weekly harvest taken to a homeless shelter in downtown Milwaukee.

At USM, service learning is more than a graduation requirement. Students are able to pursue their passions through service, which results in a wide range of initiatives that benefit the greater Milwaukee community.

Although he grew up in the city of Mequon, Wisconsin, Caleb Webb ’22 has farming in his blood. As a child, he spent his summers helping out on his grandfather’s farm in southern Illinois, the same one his dad grew up on, which has been in the family since the late 1800s. So it’s no surprise that, as a 5th grader in 2014-15, Webb helped to establish a composting system at University School of Milwaukee, and has been leading and expanding the efforts ever since. Back when he was in 5th grade, Webb, along with his friends Donn Rhys Mondano ’22 and Ian Hernandez, approached 7th Grade Science Teacher Kip Jacobs ’74 to ask if they could help compost the food waste from the school’s lunch program. At first, the boys weren’t even strong enough to lift the barrels by themselves. But eventually, they got the hang of it. “It got to the point where I could completely trust them to unload the food waste and spray out the barrels on their own, without my help,” said Jacobs. “It became like clockwork with them.”

By the time Webb was a freshman in Upper School, he became active in Karen’s Garden, USM’s community garden located on the northeast side of campus, where students learn to plant and grow crops. After spending the spring months growing seedlings in the Hamilton Greenhouse on campus, Webb and others work to transplant the crops to Karen’s Garden. They then spend the summer months weeding, watering, and harvesting the crops, which they distribute to organizations and people in need.

Students pose for a photo with food they helped grow and donate.

From left: Caleb Webb '22, Lyle Mondano '24, Kip Jacobs '74, Ian Hernandez, and Donn Rhys Mondano '22 pictured at the MacCanon Brown Homeless Sanctuary, where they helped to distribute fresh produce–some of which they grew themselves–to individuals in need.

Over the years, Webb was careful to note which crops thrived, and which vegetables were the most popular with recipients. “In 2021, we doubled the amount of tomatoes that we grew in 2020 because of how popular they were,” said Webb. “We also switched to quick-growing lettuce and beet varieties so we can harvest more, which is something we haven’t done before. We’re constantly trying to make the garden better.”

Webb, who also serves as president of the Environmental Action Team at USM, actively recruits younger students to ensure the work will continue after he’s graduated. “It’s been exciting to see how the garden has improved from year to year,” said Webb. “It’s a lot of work but it’s also really rewarding.”

Many Hands Make Light Work

One of USM’s newest student clubs is the Interact Club, which was established by Michael Kennedy ’22 and Zadan Mason ’22, and is dedicated to service projects. The club is a branch of the North Shore Rotary Club, which provided Kennedy and Mason with seed money of $1,000 to get started.

Through the club, USM students have participated in a variety of service projects throughout Milwaukee and beyond, including fall cleanup at the Neighborhood House, a Milwaukee river cleanup in Brown Deer, and outdoor work at the Mequon Nature Preserve.

Students spread mulch on trails at the Mequon Nature Preserve.

Members of USM's Interact Club gathered at the Mequon Nature Preserve to spread mulch on trails throughout the property.

Students are invited to submit ideas for upcoming projects based on their interests, and adult members of the North Shore Rotary Club often participate alongside the students. Having the students work with the adult Rotary Club members enables them to share information, resources, and a common desire to help others.

“It’s nice to be associated with the Rotary Club because it gives us some structure and formality,” said Mason. “The Interact Club’s leadership changes every year, so our hope is that it will continue long after we’ve graduated.”

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