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GROWing, Learning, Inspiring

Posted: 10:25AM October 4th, 2011 | Comments

Friday September 23rd was the second ever GROW Coalition Garden Tour.  Organized by Lesly Scott and Joe Muellenberg, UW Extension staff and GROW Steering Committee Members, a group of 12 visited four amazing school gardens.  

At Cherokee Middle School, we heard from Dawn Schmid, a  6th grade math and science teacher, who is “learning right along with the kids” as she and her students plant veggies, look for living creatures and, learn how to put the garden to bed for the winter.  Jo Jensen, Cherokee’s Family and Consumer Education teacher, is finding ways to tie the garden to lessons on nutrition, sustainability and carbon footprints.

Led by 4/5 teacher Marta Sells, students at Thoreau Elementary sold compact fluorescent light bulbs to raise the start-up funding for their garden.  Marta was inspired by the UW Arboretum’s Earth Partnership for Schools program where she learned ways to help students learn through natural areas restoration.  She realized she could use the approaches she learned in that course to engage children in learning in a garden.  She ties some of the garden-based learning to the 5th grade curriculum unit on terrestrial environments.  The day of our visit her kids had picked tomatoes and cucumbers for snack.  

Kris Burmeister, a parent at Huegel Elementary found great support from teachers for their new vegetable garden.  The parents conducted a school-wide survey to identify what the students wanted to plant, a fifth grade math class compiled the results, and now the garden reflects their desires. Beautifully arched rows wrap around the school’s circular shape allowing children to walk through a canopy of corn and sunflowers, or pick tomatoes and potatoes for eating.  Hugging the slope of a nearby hill is a stunning restored prairie and cozy amphitheater seating for classes.  The prairie was a labor of love for parent Sherry Schwartz, who found support through her community partner, Denny Conner of Prairie Enthusiasts.  Through tree and shrub removal, annual burns and frequent seeding the prairie now serves as an amazing outdoor learning lab for Heugel students.

Our last stop was Van Hise Elementary where we were greeted by an eager group of students making a delicious kale pesto.  We heard how students prepared food from the garden and compiled a recipe book of family recipes used to prepare different vegetables you can find in the garden.  Seed harvesting and collecting were the order of the day as groups gathered to collect radish seeds while others discovered how many seeds (lots!) come from a giant sunflower.  We also found Principal Peg Keeler helping a child take a sensory break in the garden.  He was smelling the delicious herbs you can find throughout the space in an effort to calm down, focus his body and prepare for reengaging in the classroom.

All in all it was an amazing day of connections, inspiration, and learning!

- Rachel

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