By Anne Boatwright

When Anita Hall, Ridgeview Charter School’s Speech Language Pathologist, decided to renovate the middle school’s languishing container gardens, she didn’t want to start a grand, unsustainable project.

Not being a horticulturist she began small with the vision of creating a food garden to tie in gardening principles with her lessons, which integrate language-based academic skills across the curriculum and grade levels. She took this concept to Principal Lisa Hastey, who approved it enthusiastically. Her idea soon caught on with other teachers who jumped in as well, eyeing opportunities for incorporation into their various social studies, math, art and science lessons.

Since Hall works collaboratively with teachers anyway, it was an easy adoption. Last October, Hands on Atlanta volunteers cleared the beds and amended the soil to prepare for the students to plant cool weather vegetables. By November, students harvested the lettuces for salads and within a month, they enjoyed a bounty of produce including broccoli, radishes, arugula, kale and Swiss chard.

To celebrate Hall invited a guest chef to teach the students how to prepare kale chips, Swiss chard pasta and sautéed broccoli. It was such a hit, students were begging for more. By the new year more teachers signed up for collaborating with Hall’s program and more took part in the spring planting phase. Educators and administrators agreed that a school garden seemed the perfect place to engage students in positive dynamic experiences that sustain the whole child as a lifelong learner.

Recently, Hall attended the Georgia Organics Conference, spending part of the time at the third annual Georgia Farm-to-School Summit. There she learned about further integrating the garden and its expansion into the curriculum, and also gained information and ideas about how to use the project to become more involved in community and global initiatives.

Hall says, “Teaching with hope, meaning and joy has continued to become an increasing necessity for me. The Farm-to-School movement in Georgia and across the nation has made me aware of and energized about how a school garden would offer limitless hands-on opportunities for learning across the curriculum while being a truly accessible ‘classroom’ for children of all learning abilities and styles.”

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More Gardens Growing At Schools

Lovett Lower School
The Garden Club of America recognized Lovett Lower School Science teacher Sarah Spiers in March for her work with students in creating and maintaining the Lower School garden. She received the 2012 Elizabeth Abernathy Hull Award, which included a certificate and check for $1,000. The award recognizes an individual who, through working with children under 16 years of age in horticulture and the environment, has inspired their appreciation of beauty and the fragility of our planet. Spiers not only taught her students how to cultivate and tend a garden, she has incorporated philanthropy into her curriculum as well. The plants and vegetables that are grown in the garden are donated to a local women’s and children’s shelter.

New Schools at Carver
The State Farm Youth Advisory Board was awarded a $70,300 grant to GivingPoint to build a unity garden and courtyard for more than 1,000 under-served students at the New Schools at Carver. They will also use these grant funds to expand their technology platform and provide online education materials for students to learn more about environmental stewardship and to apply their classroom knowledge in real-world experiences that benefit the community. Dr. Darian Jones, Principal at the Health Sciences and Research School at Carver, said “Throughout the project, we will focus on teaching the students teamwork, service leadership, environmental stewardship, and the value of uniting to help others for a common cause.” Sustenance Design designed the Unity Garden over several months of guiding a community building process with input from teachers and community leaders.  It will provide a place for students from all of the New Schools at Carver to gather, relax, and enjoy nature together.  It will have delicious fruit trees, beautiful flowers, and inviting places to sit.  Please join us on one or more of the following dates to dig, plant, lay bricks, mix compost and more.