The Sentinel-Record

CMS students prepare for spring with vegetable garden


Students in Cutter Morning Star High School’s EAST initiative have started work on a community vegetable garden that they hope to complete, and have flourishin­g, by spring.

The 100-square-foot garden will be located behind the district administra­tion building on Spring Street, and feature vegetables including lettuce, radish, carrots, spinach, celery and cabbage.

CMS senior David Cox is the project lead for the students’ latest endeavor. Last fall, the school’s EAST initiative — an acronym for Education Accelerate­d by Service and Technology — received a $3,000 recycling grant from the West Central Arkansas Planning and Developmen­t District to continue its recycling program on campus.

The high school’s EAST facilitato­r, Heather Slay, said the new idea for a garden was completely Cox’s.

“At the beginning of the year when we were brainstorm­ing projects, he was the one that suggested the idea of the garden,” she said. “And so I was excited. It’s way different than anything anyone else had ever brought to the table, so it seemed like a good idea. … That’s the great thing about EAST class is it’s student-led, student-directed. And so the students are the ones that bring the project ideas and figure out, or learn how, to carry them out with some support, of course. And adults are willing to come alongside and act as community partners.”

Cox, who joined EAST for the first time during his final year in school, joined specifical­ly with the idea of a community vegetable garden in mind.

“This is something that I’ve been wanting to do for some years now, and this is my first and last year in high school EAST,” he said. “I have never ■ Garden beds are shown behind the Cutter Morning Star School District Administra­tion building on Tuesday morning, where students in the school’s EAST initiative plan on starting a vegetable garden. The plan also includes building a greenhouse within a year.

been in EAST before but I was like, ‘Hey, I want to do this community garden thing.’ … I already had my idea for the project the first day I walked in and I was like, ‘When do I get to decide my project?’”

Cox has spent the last couple of weeks pulling weeds and tilling the garden beds in preparatio­n for the seed planting and spreading of compost, which he notes is a great form of stress relief.

He said the project entails “starting a community garden and getting off the

The event started less as a fundraiser and more as a chance to get out of the capital city.

“Our board of advisers at one point had their meeting down there,” Birrer said of the event that started in 2007. “Everybody enjoyed it, of course, but we weren’t really raising money. And then once we enjoyed it, one of the board members said, ‘Well, you could probably make money on this and have a fundraiser.’”

While the UAMS Gala for Life is the largest fundraisin­g event for the cancer institute, the Day at the Races is much different from the black-tie affair, and it has raised $247,702.10 to date.

“It’s a fun event,” Birrer said. “They get to see the ponies. It is a nice blend between a cancer center fundraiser and a community event. The gala tends to be here central. It’s very attached to the cancer institute, whereas Day at the Races really celebrates Hot Springs and the whole area.”

Birrer said the event usually raises between $25,000 and $50,000 for the cancer institute, which is a “very, very nice chunk of money.”

“These fundraisin­g efforts provide usually unrestrict­ed dollars for the director and myself, which then allows me to use that for a whole variety of needs as we go to (National Cancer Institute) designatio­n,” he said.

“I think that’s one issue that a lot of people don’t understand. We get money from other sources; we get money from grants, or we get money even from the state. A lot of times they have a lot of strings attached. You can only use it for certain things, so philanthro­pic dollars like this are pretty much unattached.”

There are no restrictio­ns on who can call themselves a cancer center, Birrer said, noting the National Cancer Institute created competitiv­e requiremen­ts for NCI designatio­n for cancer centers.

Some of the requiremen­ts for the designatio­n are cancer screening and prevention programs, “a robust clinical trial operation,” a large research funding base and “community outreach and engagement,” he said.

“If we get the NCI designatio­n right off the bat, it means a lot to the people of Arkansas because we’re going to be providing all the services and clinical trials for them and caring for them,” he said.

“It also has some practical outcomes, which is we think it’ll generate at least 1,500 jobs — could be even more — and bring in $72 million from other sources. … When you have an NCI-designated cancer center, all the pharma and biotech companies want to show up and basically sell their opportunit­ies, if you will, for clinical trials. So that’s great for patients; it’s really great for all of the staff that work on those clinical trials.”

There are only 71 cancer centers across the country that have attained NCI designatio­n, Birrer said, but the Rockefelle­r Cancer Institute has not yet gotten the designatio­n.

“We’ve changed a lot, and we’ve got the necessary components,” he said. “Within the last eight or nine years before I got here (in 2019), that they did not submit a grant, so they weren’t competing. What’s really changed the playing field is the state money, which mostly comes from marijuana tax and leadership.”

The applicatio­n process is intense, and once the designatio­n is attained, the cancer institute must reapply every five years.

“The applicatio­n is a big deal,” Birrer said. “The document will probably be about 3,000 pages. It will involve approval from our external advisory board. We’ve already constructe­d our external advisory board, and we’ve already met once.”

When the applicatio­n goes in, “we have to have a site visit right here, where the National Cancer Institute will come down and look at us, and then they’ll score us, and if we get a good enough score, we’ll get the designatio­n. That designatio­n needs to be renewed every five years,” he said.

The designatio­n will be a great benefit for cancer patients across the state, Birrer said.

“I can’t overemphas­ize how advantageo­us it will be for the cancer patients in Arkansas, and it’s part of the reason I came here, where I think we can really impact patients,” he said.

Tickets for the Day at the Races can be purchased at­g-events/dayat-the-races or by calling 501686-6113.

 ?? The Sentinel-Record/Lance Porter ??
The Sentinel-Record/Lance Porter

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