Linking Garden and Compost Activities to the Curriculum

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Excerpt from October 2016 Superintendent’s Newsletter

Bishop Learning Garden Enriches Curriculum and Community

At this time of year, the lessons and Open Garden sessions have ended, the radishes have been harvested, beds mulched, composts turned, and the dead plants removed, leaving the Bishop Learning Garden ready for winter. This wonderful outdoor classroom is composed of 11 raised beds and a composting station for cafeteria food waste, garden plants and yard waste. An outdoor storage shed, water station and various areas used for gathering during lessons completes the space.

Last year, when the garden was started, Bishop classroom teachers worked with volunteer garden coordinator Wendy Johnecheck and garden educator Abigail Wolf from Home Harvest LLC to develop standards-based lesson plans. These typically involve multiple sessions with both indoor and outdoor components. The primary goal of the garden and compost curriculum is to enrich already existing class material by creating opportunities for outdoor and hands-on experiential learning. All grades and classrooms use the space and participate in the activities. Ms. Wolf works outside with the teachers to deliver the garden-based lessons, and assists with some of the ongoing maintenance work.

Ms. Wolf also leads the weekly Open Garden activities. During recess, students are free to enter the garden to tend the crops, harvest, and maintain the on-site cafeteria composting program. Between 30 and 60 young people typically taking part in this weekly activity. During the past year there were plenty of plants that needed care as the crops included tomatoes, kale, garlic, various bean varieties, popcorn, radishes, peas, greens, Swiss chard, kale, broccoli, potatoes, cucumbers, carrots, peppers, squash, strawberries, and herbs.

As coordinator, Ms. Johnecheck assists in developing a year-round crop plan, oversees maintenance of the on-site compost system, is the liaison with the PTO and Arlington Parks and Recreation, attends external garden and compost network meetings, and leads fundraising and grant writing. Funding for the garden educator was provided by the Arlington Education Foundation last year. The Bishop PTO assumed responsibility for this year’s funding, and has committed to ensuring that the garden activities remain part of the school curriculum in the future. A garden committee of parents help guide and support the activities, volunteer at weekly Open Garden sessions and help with ongoing maintenance such as weekend watering and building trellises. During the summer, Bishop families and community members harvest vegetables for their own use and maintain the beds for use in the fall.

Ms. Johnecheck indicates that research tells us that children who grown their own food are more likely to try vegetables, and are more willing to try the same vegetable a second or third time once they know what to expect. She has seen students who refuse to try something at the beginning of a harvest lesson willing to try a radish and get in line for their third carrot by the end. Two grades cook as the last session in their lesson plans. The second grade makes kale salad using the kale they planted when they were in the first grade, and the fourth grade uses the potatoes they planted the previous year to make potato salad.

The agri-food literacy of the school community has grown considerably since the start of the program. Students can be seen walking in the garden identifying the crops in the beds and checking periodically to understand when things will be ready to eat. The summer months saw visits from community members who stopped by to learn about what is happening and to gather tips on how to grow their own vegetables or combat garden pests.

The Learning Garden has become a very special place, shared by the Bishop school and wider communities. Next month, there will be a semi-private garden space dedication in the memory of Charlie Buck, a Bishop second grader who passed away last spring. I am grateful to the many stakeholders who have come together to make the Bishop Garden and Compost Program so successful-teachers, Bishop PTO members, parent volunteers, community members and groups such as Arlington Parks and Recreation. Special thanks go to Ms. Johnecheck and Ms. Wolf for their dedication to this project. Weather permitting, the activities will commence again just before spring break.

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Excerpt from May 2015 Superintendent’s Newsletter

New Bishop Garden Strengthens Curriculum and Connection with the Natural World

Thanks to the new Garden, students at Bishop have started connecting their class work to the external environment with hands-on experiences, physical work and lesson plans that explicitly link outdoor activities to the curriculum. Planting has already occurred in the raised beds of what will primarily be an edible garden, and the strawberries should be ripe by the second or third week in June.

Principal Mark McAneny, who originated the teaching garden idea, created a taskforce that included three Bishop parents, a fourth grade teacher, the Arlington Recycling Coordinator and a representative from the after-school program. They worked on fundraising for two years, and received money from the Whole Kids Foundation, a Whole Foods 5% Day, and the Bishop PTO and parent community.

An on-site educational composting area is part of the design, and Bishop students are already composting fruit and vegetable food scraps at lunch. The Bright Start after-school program has the responsibility to transfer the collected food to the compost bin, and mix the waste with browns and water. In addition to providing nutritional compost that will be placed in the garden, the composting program will be integrated into the second grade curriculum unit that focuses on soils.

Now that the garden is in place, the emphasis will move to developing lesson plans and providing support to implement them. Bishop has just been awarded an Innovations in Education grant from the Arlington Education Foundation that will be used to develop educational materials. The Garden Educator from Home Harvest will be working with Bishop teachers this summer so that the lessons are ready for implementation next fall. Home Harvest, founded by AHS graduate Ben Barkan, also created the garden design and led the installation effort.

The taskforce is already starting to think about ways to support a garden educator/coordinator in the future. This is a key component present in the vibrant programs across the country that the group investigated. Professional development funding will also be important to ensure that the space is utilized fully.

The Bishop Garden is a remarkable example of an initiative that unites the entire school community, and provides learning opportunities that span earth science, math, reading, nutrition and health, outdoor art and much, much more.  As Principal McAneny states in the Arlington Advocate article about the garden installation, “All children need and benefit from more time outdoors;  it is critical for their health, self-concept and future school success.”  Congratulations to everyone who worked hard to make this teaching garden a reality, and I look forward to the many ways our students and teachers use the space.

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