Dunwoody High School Senior an Asset to Community
Dany Kanso started Grow Dunwoody, touched the city with his volunteer green initiatives and graduates Thursday.
Normally, it’s the teachers who try to get the students engaged. Rare is it the student who gets the teachers engaged.
Meet Danny Kanso, if you haven’t already. He is that rare student.
Kanso is a Dunwoody High School senior who grew up on Roberts Drive in the shadow of the city's Nature Center. He graduates Thursday and created a program at the start of the school year called Grow Dunwoody.
Student led, Grow Dunwoody has the ambitious goal of using organic gardening as an educational medium to enhance the study of science, wellness, health, physical education and to encourage the adoption of sustainable lifestyles. The program is impacting virtually all of the 7,000 K-12 students in the Dunwoody cluster of schools, as well as a number of community organizations.
Kanso’s vision for Grow Dunwoody is to make the curriculum in the target classes interactive by creating hands-on, outdoor learning experiences with subjects the students are studying in the classroom. Then, use these outdoor experiences to instill sustainable practices and values within the student bodies.
He launched the program at Dunwoody High School by forming a business-like organizational structure and by seeking support for his vision from the school administration and the community.
Grow Dunwoody has partnered with Georgia Perimeter College, the Dunwoody Nature Center, the Upper Chattahoochee River Keeper, the National Wildlife Federation, the Chamber of Commerce, the Watershed Protection Division of the Georgia Environmental Protection Agency, the Dunwoody Community Garden, Brook Run Park and several other community groups, by Kanso’s count.
“I am so proud of Danny because he took the bull by the horns and got this program started,” said DHS Principal Rodney Swanson. “Danny came to me at the beginning of the year and has not stopped asking for support.
“The program has gotten the entire science department on board, and this promotes student engagement,” Swanson continued. “The students are recycling around the community, and they are starting a vegetable garden with some of the food going to (a local food pantry). So the students are getting hands-on, real-world experiences."
Kanso kicked off those experiences by leading an effort to re-do the inner DHS courtyards. One courtyard is designated for growing edibles. The other will be a home for native plants and includes a small pond biology students will use for projects such as studying micro-organisms like protozoa.
Just a few weeks ago, Kanso led an effort to install vegetable beds in a grassy area at the front of the school. Food from these beds will be used in the school’s cooking lab and will be donated to a local food pantry.
To fund these and other Grow Dunwoody efforts, he made a presentation about his vision to the Board of Directors of the Dunwoody Homeowners Association. As a result, DHA contributed $2,000 seed money to expand the program to all the public schools in Dunwoody, Bill Grossman, DHA president, said in an email.
As part of Grow Dunwoody’s community outreach, Kanso engaged Georgia Perimeter College. He invited GPC science students to Dunwoody High where they are assisting teachers and students in science classes.
Danny’s vision, Swanson said, was for these efforts to trickle down to the middle and elementary schools in the Dunwoody cluster of schools.
The trickle is becoming a stream.
“I think under that Danny’s leadership his group has been great at promoting the concept of school gardens,” said Tina Wilkerson, a parent volunteer at Vanderlyn Elementary School. “His group has demonstrated that students are interested in learning -- not only about where food comes from but about how to grow different fruits and vegetables. After three years at Vanderlyn with parent-only involvement, we are getting teachers on board this summer as they realize students’ high interest level.”
Vanderlyn, like most of the schools in the cluster, has an organic garden. Kanso said it was this garden and the one at Chesnut Charter Elementary School that helped inspire him to start Grow Dunwoody.
“I saw small Farm to School programs at Vanderlyn and Chesnut and inquired about them” he said. “I saw that they were after school but not part of the curriculum.
“I wanted to integrate community groups through organic gardening into the classroom in the areas of science, wellness and special needs in a way that meets Georgia Performance Standards,” he added.
The Grow Dunwoody mission, he said, is not to manage organic garden learning initiatives at each of the schools. The schools, though parents and the PTA, can do that on a local level, he said. Kanso’s vision is to make the Grow Dunwoody concept that was born at Dunwoody High a cohesive program at all the schools. Then, he wants see the support for Grow Dunwoody expand from secondary education into civic support.
“This would connect everything together,” he said.
Kanso is doing everything he can to make that connection. A key step in his civic effort was being appointed to the city’s Sustainability Commission by the Dunwoody City Council and the mayor as its first student member. Its purpose in appointing him was to represent the Dunwoody Nature Center and the city’s youth, according to Kanso.
He serves on the commission’s Recycling, Outreach, Water and Student committees, founding and co-chairing the latter. As part of his committee involvement, he created the Sustainable Hero of the Year award.
He credits his appointment to the commission with introducing him to public service.
His can-do efforts at Dunwoody High and on the commission have caught the attention of Georgia Organics. The state leader in the Farm to School movement invited him to present a program on Grow Dunwoody at the state Farm to School conference in Columbus in February. He also joined Georgia Organics at Children’s Day at the Capitol in the spring where state Sen. Fran Millar introduced him to a number of lawmakers.
Kanso’s leadership has impressed Terry Nall, an At-Large member of the City Council, so much that Nall calls Kanso "Mr. Service to the Community."
“Danny puts his words into action,” said Nall. “As the ever-present volunteer, he is here to make our future greater. Danny is a natural leader with new initiatives for his school and community, but leads only toward the best. He lifts up every task to the highest level of service. He lives and serves so that those who know or see him will be inspired to the finest living. Danny dedicates his skills and abilities to our common good.”
One of the ways Kanso has done that is to create recycling programs in the schools, at no cost to the schools, and for Dunwoody businesses through a partnership with the Chamber of Commerce.
He has also established monthly Adopt-a-Stream water quality monitoring at the Dunwoody Nature Center and at Brook Run Park.
Somehow, after serving or organizing more than 1,800 volunteer hours, by his count, for the Nature Center and the city, he has found time to study and excel at school.
He is a member of the National Honors Society, the National English Honors Society, the National Science Honors Society, the National Spanish Honors Society and the Key Club. He was a founder and officer of the Robotics team, the Student Volunteer Organization, the Dunwoody Environmental Coalition and served on the STEM Grant Committee. He also belonged to the Social Club, the Chess Club, served in class cabinets, ran track and was the principal bassist for the DHS orchestra.
“Danny is just so enthusiastic,” said Ellen Augustine, a science teacher at Dunwoody High and a faculty adviser to Grow Dunwoody. “He wants to change the world!”
First, though, there’s college. He has several options but said he’s still undecided on where he will go. After college, he sees a career in public service as an option.
“I’m lucky,” he said, “because I’ve known what I wanted to do. To be involved in the city of Dunwoody … it’s given me more than I’ve been able to give back,” he said.
Asked what advice he would give people to help their community, he quickly said to get involved in Grow Dunwoody. Also, don’t take no for an answer, he said..
“I can’t tell you how many times people told us no,” he said. “It’s amazing what you can do if you keep at it. We have a wonderful city.”
How lucky for Dunwoody that “no” isn’t a part of Kanso’s vocabulary.
In other gardening news …
The Dunwoody Post Office has granted the Green Market a second extension on the use of the parking lot in Dunwoody Village.
The market’s last scheduled day at the Post Office parking lot location has been moved to July 11. Market President Paula Guilbeau received the good news from Dana English, the supervisor of the Dunwoody Post Office, at last Wednesday’s weekly market.
English said she found out about the change in plans last Tuesday. She said she wanted to let Guilbeau know during Wednesday’s market session to give Guilbeau as much time as possible in her effort to find a new home for the market.
"I understand Paula is talking to the shopping center people,” English said in reference to Regency Centers, the broker for Dunwoody Village, and the Simpson Organization, the broker for the Shops of Dunwoody.
“That’s good,” she continued. “This is a sleepy complex without some action. They don’t need to lose them!
“Since we have received yet another reprieve from the Post Office, it has taken a little pressure off of me,” Guilbeau said in an email. “I feel we have a little more breathing room to explore all three options, Dunwoody Village, the Shops of Dunwoody and the Spruill Art Gallery.”
The Post Office is now scheduled to take over the parking lot where the Green Market vendors set up on July 14, English said. The delay, English said, is the result of moves at other postal facilities that are impacting the change in Dunwoody.
The postal lot in Dunwoody Village will be used for employee parking, English continued. The first workers arrive at 4 a.m., she said, and the last person doesn’t leave until 7:30 or 8 p.m. at night.
The Green market operates on Wednesdays from 8 a.m. to noon from mid-April to mid-November.
The Dunwoody Community Garden is locked in a battle for seventh place with the Bridger Community Garden in Bridger, South Dakota and St. Ambrose Parish in Brunswick, Ohio in the Edy’s Fruit Bars Communities Take Root orchard contest.
Five winners will be announced at the end of the first of four rounds of voting on May 31. The top five vote getters have established what looks like a safe lead, and the Community Garden appears to be out of the running to be among the first-round winners. Four winners in each of the other three rounds will be announced on June 30, July 31 and August 31.
Each of the 17 winning gardens will receive an orchard.
The garden’s goal is to be among the top four vote getters at the end of June. If the garden can finish in seventh place at the end of the first round on May 31, it will be in second place at the start of the June round of voting.
Placing among the top four gardens in June would mean that Community Garden supporters won’t have to continue voting into the third or fourth rounds. Voting is allowed every day on multiple e-mail addresses, which can be e-mails created for voting purposes only. Some Garden members have been voting on as many as eight email addresses a day!
Recently, the Community Garden has been averaging 395 votes a day while Bridger has been averaging 342 daily votes, according to Community Garden President Don Converse.
You can support the garden by voting online. Once on the site, just follow the prompts to vote. A voting shortcut is to go to the Leaders tab on the main page. You can access the Dunwoody garden voting site from this tab as long as the Community Garden is one of the top 10 vote getters.