In the spring of 2019, Ellis Wiltshire of Rock Creek Innovations returned to his high school alma mater with a new mission—to help rebuild the school’s horticulture program. Over the last decade, the school’s program has struggled owing to changes in faculty and lack of funding. Terry Cornett, the current horticulture teacher, has been rebuilding the program.
“At one point, it was super strong, but now we’re building it back up. We have an FFA chapter that’s at 74 members right now—that says a lot. Four or five years ago, it was down to just a handful of kids,” says Cornett.
The team at Rock Creek Innovations became involved this year. Penny, a designer at Rock Creek Innovations, has a son who was taking the class. She and Ellis, a former HARDSCAPE HERO winner, decided to get involved.
“After hearing about the tumultuous last few years the program had endured, and the great work that Mr. Cornett was doing, it felt right for us to step in and see where we could help,” Wiltshire explains.
Over the course of the semester, Ellis and his team visited the class, offering blocks of instruction on how to build a resume, write cover letters and gain experience in the fields of landscaping and hardscaping. To top it all off, Wiltshire and the class installed a new patio behind the school using Eagle Bay Pavers’ materials and expertise.
“During the patio install, we were with the class every day. It took about three weeks to complete. Eagle Bay was a huge help in donating the materials, and we donated the tools and aggregate needed to complete the installation. The students really got into it,” says Wiltshire.
The patio is now used as a common area for the school, where teachers and students can eat lunch, classes are taught and the horticulture students use it as a base of operations for their outdoor projects.
“It was amazing to see the students jump right into the project,” says Cornett, “They were engaged the whole time, asking questions and working together. Some of the students in the class are stronger or more skilled and they really stepped up to help their classmates. They showed a lot of initiative and came together to accomplish something.”
The team at Rock Creek Innovations plans on volunteering with Cornett’s class again during the 2019–2020 school year.
“We’re dedicating a block of instruction to Ellis and his team. It’s great for the students to get such a positive dose of the real world. Ellis really shows the students that they can have successful careers in this field—he’s a great role model,” says Cornett.
Ellis and his team are excited and already planning new lessons and projects for the upcoming school year. “We’re excited to be involved again this year; being able to give something back and spend time with so many enthusiastic students is really great,” says Wiltshire.
As a testament to the success of the program, Ellis and his team hired one exceptional student as a summer worker after his completion of Mr. Cornett’s course. “He’s been great… he has really stepped up and worked hard this summer. He’s now considering going to the Agricultural Technology Program at Virginia Tech after graduation,” says Wiltshire.
“It’s incredible to see our partners stepping up and doing good in their community. Ellis is going above and beyond to share his passion and support the next generation of professionals in our field,” says Matt Kwarta, Director of Sales and Marketing at Eagle Bay.