Gardening is oft-noted for its therapeutic value – spending time outdoors improves mental health, relieves stress and anxiety, and can increase feelings of well-being.

With this intent, Bayside Community Center launched its garden therapy program last year, one of many programs offered by 88 nonprofit partners throughout San Diego County through the Level Up SD grant program.

After a year of pandemic restrictions and online learning during the 2020 – 2021 academic year, the San Diego Unified School District Board of Education committed $31 million to augment its enhanced learning programming in partnership with The San Diego Foundation through Level Up SD.

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Bayside’s Garden Therapy Program

For nearly 90 years, Bayside Community Center has empowered its diverse community to improve its quality of life through services, education and advocacy.

Located in Linda Vista, Bayside applied for a Level Up SD 2021 grant for its garden therapy program to connect middle school students with the natural world, improve self-efficacy, enhance problem-solving and teamwork skills, and reduce stress and anxiety. 

Held at Montgomery Middle School, the four-week pilot program featured instruction by two certified horticulture therapists and eventually enrolled 19 students.

Bayside Community Center Level Up SD garden therapy participants

The opportunity with Level Up SD allowed Bayside to launch a program that had been discussed for some time. Additionally, by participating in Level Up SD, Bayside got valuable media exposure for the program, which the center’s staff hopes will help with program awareness and fundraising.

While short, the program was undoubtedly successful, if the students’ and their families’ feedback is any indication.

“[My son] was treated with kindness, compassion. And staff encouraged his gardening interest and provided tools for him to continue,” said one parent after the program was completed. “He loved it… It helped him reconnect with kids again, reduce his anxiety and it was very healing.”

After a long year and a half at home, students were able to experience firsthand the restorative effects of gardening.

“It’s an amazing camp and everyone is so nice,” said one student participant. “It’s very fun and awesome. I think almost everyone will love this program.”

Another parent said, “This was a wonderful class, with very knowledgeable and wonderful teachers, both of my sons enjoyed it so much! Great opportunity to learn outside about nature, the environment and gardening while connecting and forming new friendships. We were thrilled to participate and look forward to joining the class again next summer!”

Level Up SD

Level Up SD is a reimagined summer school experience, offering extraordinary academic and enrichment programming to K-12 San Diego Unified students.

Since its launch in the summer of 2021, Level Up SD has supported more than 130 nonprofit organizations, produced 30,000+ opportunities for San Diego Unified students and served 25,000 students in the district.

Learn more about Level Up SD at