Lessons, relationships sprouting in school gardens
LONE TREE – Despite this week’s unseasonable weather – it won’t be long before students across the Douglas County School District (DCSD) are planting flowers, herbs and vegetables in school gardens. While kids love the opportunity to play in the dirt, their teachers say great lessons are also learned as the kids get their hands dirty and nurture these plants over the course of the school year.
According to DCSD’s Sustainability team, nearly 50 DCSD schools have planted a school garden, including Lone Tree Elementary. Teachers there have also worked to integrate several subjects, including science, writing and even financial literacy.
“It results in increased engagement,” said Kay Tucker, Lone Tree Elementary School’s World Class Education Specialist. “You can see it in their level of buy-in and their excitement. Their understanding deepens, it becomes more relevant and meaningful.”
In fact, several grades have centered projects around the growth seasons or efforts to improve the garden.
“First grade has been working all year long around the essential question of ‘how do we provide a park for birds around the school?’ They are doing all the research, building bird houses or bird feeders and they’re putting in the bushes,” Tucker said.
Last year, second graders were responsible for planting perennials that have begun to sprout this spring.
“The garden is a little barren right now, but the perennials that the second-graders planted last year are coming up,” Tucker said.
This spring, as in years past, students will get the opportunity to work with members of Denver Urban Gardens. The volunteers share their knowledge about gardening with the kids and give them connections to the world outside of their classrooms.
“We always talk about getting outside the brick and mortar of the building for more real-world experiences,” said Kay Tucker, Lone Tree Elementary School’s World Class Education Specialist. “The community gardeners help the students through the process. It is great having them here. They help them get it all lined up and planted.”
Tucker says the garden at Lone Tree Elementary has truly been a community collaboration between the school, the city of Lone Tree and Denver Urban Gardens. There is a large section for students to plant and grow vegetables and flowers in, and then there are 50 plots for local residents to rent.
"We feel we provide a community service to the entire City of Lone Tree, but we benefit as well with the connections we make to the gardeners," said Kay Tucker, Lone Tree Elementary School’s World Class Education Specialist. "Our gardens are beautiful when the students come back to school in August. The bees are buzzing, the birds are chirping, and the amount of different varieties of vegetables and flowers is amazing. Great observation opportunities for our students."
WATCH: During Earth Week Lone Tree Elementary was honored with an "Earthie Award" from DCSD Sustainability for their work in the garden and elsewhere.
Most of the vegetables from the school's portion of the garden are donated to the Fresh Harvest Food Bank. It is also interesting to note that the school has partnered with We Don’t Waste to ensure that leftovers from lunch also serve the hungry.
Last fall, when it was time to harvest, third-graders coordinated a farmer’s market, allowing them to learn real-life skills like financial management, through hands on experiences.
“This was great. It was such a good learning experience for the kids. They practiced for the last three weeks,” Stephanie Snook, a mother of a third-grader, added. “We even took a field trip to Safeway and we practiced weighing and reading signs in figuring out how much something cost. It was great.”
As part of the project, each student had to apply for the job they wanted.
“They wrote paragraphs on why they felt they could do the job and why they wanted to be appointed to the job,” Snook said. “The teachers did a great job of maximizing their strengths.”
While her daughter, Hana, wanted to be in cash management, handling the payments from parents and community members, she and her best friend Ella were assigned with customer service.
This seemed to suit both girls perfectly, as demonstrated when they aptly gave a tour to Interim Superintendent Erin Kane, during her visit to the school.
“We are learning how to make a business, how to make plans, how to grow plants, how to be efficient and know how to run our own business,” Hana Snook said. “One day, I could run my own business, like my mom.”
By simply planting a garden, DCSD schools are helping students blossom.