On a weekly basis, retired educator Ruth Peritz heads over to Kennedy High to tend to the school garden, but she’s not only making sure the vegetable plants grow.
School officials are lauding Peritz for bringing an outdoor education opportunity to severely disabled kids in Kennedy’s special education program. Last month, she received the “You Make a Difference” award from the West Contra Costa Unified School District for her garden work with special needs students.
While the students are always excited to work in the garden, they each have varying levels of understanding and needs and may not be able to follow all the directions. But Peritz says their love of being outside and in the garden is evident.
“It might take a little time to have them learn what’s going on, but I know they are enjoying it,” Peritz said.
She and her husband Michael Peritz, who retired from Kennedy High after 35 years as a teacher, are known on campus as Mr. and Mrs. Kennedy High. The couple and their daughters, both Kennedy graduates, founded the Eagle Foundation, which provides annual scholarships for Kennedy students and grants for the school’s teachers.
As chair of the foundation’s beautification committee, Ruth Peritz worked to get outdoor tables and benches at the school painted, murals erected, and was instrumental in reviving abandoned gardens at the front of school on Cutting Boulevard and by the football field.
To make the gardens possible, the well-connected Peritz family worked to procure tools, supplies, seeds and trees with help from teachers, students and organizations such as Urban Tilth, West County DIGS and the Contra Costa County Office of Education’s Regional Occupational Program, among others.
Rangers from Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historic Park donated the 25 fruit trees now located by the football field, while Richmond restaurant Assemble donates the use of its hot house and seeds for planting in the Cutting Boulevard garden.
“This is now the fourth year in a row that Ruth has continued not only to donate her time one or two days weekly but also to teach my students and staff the art and science of organic farming,” Morabito said. “She teaches our students with severe disabilities how to grow food for the table by planting, watering, feeding, pruning, and harvesting fruits and vegetables used in their classroom cooking curriculum.”
Morabito also credited Peritz with spending extra time in the garden during the summer to keep it thriving, and sometimes dipping into her own pockets for new garden seedlings.
It’s not as if the Pertiz family’s contributions have gone unnoticed. As students, teachers, the district and organizations and agencies teamed to beautify the Kennedy campus, an art student made a mural of Ruth and Mike Peritz that is visible from Cutting Boulevard.
Ruth Peritz has degrees in social work, psychology, early childhood and education and has worked in public and private schools, lectured at UC Berkeley, and maintained a learning center for 30 years. During her career, she spent about four years at Kennedy as a graduate tutor.