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Early College Makes New Plans for Asheville's Azalea Park
Early College Makes New Plans for Asheville's Azalea Park
Posted on 11/18/2021
At Buncombe County Early College, students learn while making their community better.Featured Photos: 1. (Above) BCEC students discuss park improvements with local professionals at the Mission Health/A-B Tech Conference Center. 2. In February, 2020, BCEC and RiverLink teamed up to improve an undeveloped riverbank area in Asheville's Azalea Park. (Photo: Tim Reaves.) 3. Early College students hold a virtual meeting with a professional mentor.

Story/Photos By: Benjamin Rickert

BCS Communications

At Buncombe County Early College (BCEC), students learn while making their community better.

In February, 2020, BCEC and RiverLink have teamed up to improve an undeveloped riverbank area in Asheville's Azalea Park.On Nov. 9, students met with professionals from various industries to discuss their school’s ongoing project to improve East Asheville’s Azalea Park. Meeting in the Mission Health/A-B Tech Conference Center, students brainstormed ways to improve the local park and sought input from professionals in landscape architecture, ecology and biodiversity, forest management, civil engineering, journalism, design, and more. It was an opportunity to learn about a variety of career paths while looking for tangible ways to mitigate the complex issues affecting the beloved park, including erosion, flooding, litter, and — more recently during the pandemic — homelessness.

The most promising solutions will be considered for implementation this spring.

“We believe that when students are engaged in real world problems, it increases their engagement in the learning process,” said Early College Principal Dr. Donna Lanahan. “They see problems that adults in our community have been trying to solve for a while without much traction. They feel invested in the process when they can say, ‘Hey, we’ve got ideas that we can bring to this community-based challenge.’”

Early College students hold a virtual meeting with a professional mentor.During the event, students rotated throughout the conference center speaking with the professional mentors*. They discussed features that could make the park healthier and more usable for visitors, such as adding a pollinator garden, erosion barriers, walking trails, helpful signage, or additional playground space.

“Creating events like this where students can discuss their ideas with community members helps them take something hypothetical and turn it into something real,” explained BCEC teacher Anneliese Shreve. “It not only elevates their thinking about a problem, but makes them way more engaged.”

The Azalea Park revitalization project is organized through a partnership between BCEC and Constructive Learning Design’s community-focused RootEd initiative. Functioning like a project manager, RootEd will plan events and milestones this school year, guiding teachers and professionals in empowering students to play a central role in improving Azalea Park.

“RootEd’s focus is connecting students and schools with communities to solve challenges,” explained Jay Korreck, owner of Constructive Learning Design and leader of RootEd. “We start by working with teachers, and it’s their job to find challenges in the community. Then we help them design a project to do that.”

Korreck stressed the importance of helping students grow in their ability to creatively and collaboratively solve problems as they prepare for adulthood.

“That’s a skillset that can be learned and taught that spans all kinds of fields and industries,” he said.

Dr. Lanahan is excited to see her students grow in their investment in the local community.

“Having students learn from and with professional mentors strengthens their sense of community,” she added.

*The 2021-22 Azalea Park mentors include representatives from RiverLink; Mary Weber Landscape Architecture; the Center for Biological Diversity; Forest Keeper; Resonance; Blue Earth Planning, Engineering, and Design; Mountain Xpress; Farm Press Creative; Wildlands Engineering; Constructive Learning Design and RootEd; the Land of Sky/Mountain Area Workforce Development Board; and Dogwood Health Trust.

    Buncombe County Schools is in the process of reviewing its website to ensure compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Buncombe County Schools does not discriminate on the basis of sex in its education programs or activities and is required by Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 and federal regulations to not discriminate in such a manner. This requirement extends to admission and employment. Inquiries about the application of Title IX and its implementing federal regulations may be referred to the Title IX Coordinator and/or the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights in the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education. The Title IX Coordinator's contact information is: Shanon Martin,, 828-255-5918, 175 Bingham Road, Asheville, NC 28806.

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