I was inspired in April at a conference about Outdoor Learning - when Martin Ogle said, “ Just do it!”. There had been no interest amongst our PTA in planning for the garden. So we decided to follow an incremental adaptive evolutionary pattern - rather than master planning. I am very happy with this adaptive model - it allows us to be responsive to changes within an overall vision. The other thing is to start where you are: Second grade already had a pollinator monarch garden and wanted to take kids out. Bu they were having difficulty growing milkweed as the soil is compacted rubble and alkaline. I had a 15-minute strategic conversation with the staff - offered to help and suggested we do a plant sale - to raise awareness in the school. They thought it would be fun so we went with it. We involved the whole school in gathering up pots. Dug up spare seedlings in the garden, potted up marigolds and sold everything on Earth Day for a dollar a pop. Very successful. Kids learned that the garden could be productive, they learned economics, math and looked after plants and felt a huge sense of achievement.
In the fall I talked with 4th grade staff. They didn’t feel ready to take out whole classes but suggested I take out a 4th grade lunch bunch of about 10 kids. I have been using teaching materials from Master Naturalists and Junior Master Gardeners. It’s been a very enjoyable and effective group. I’ve learned a lot from talking with folks here - and then put into practice. After a bug hunt one kid wrote in our journal “Found Nature”.
ATS has a Ugandan family who have set up a sister school in their native village. It is a very big project for both communitiies.. And at the outset of ramping up the garden - I think there was a fear at our school that gardening might detract from the link to Uganda. So I thought to make a Uganda garden and strengthen the connections. We were given a banana tree by Glencarlyn Library and planted peanuts given by the Ugandan family. These plants are also crops in Mali which is studied by 3rd grade. An African garden, like this, could be a simple addition to any school here in Arlington.
I had noticed in our schoolyard that many trees were planted and then died from neglect. So realized before we planted any more - we needed to set up a structure to look after them. We have set up an “Adopt a Tree” program. There is also a memorandum of agreement now between PTAs and the County for looking after any trees that the County provides. I think ATS now would be ready to plant and look after trees.
Maintenance is a huge issue in schools. Our strategy so far is to create and maximize opportunities for parents and volunteers to help - with the long term goal of getting kids out to study and maintain the garden.
Growing Connections Through Outdoor Education Mary Van Dyke for Green Schools @ Green Living Expo
Where? Arlington Traditional School (ATS) Garden