In the Spring of 2011 staff members, parents, and students received funding from the Brighton Education Fund to install and maintain a school garden at French Road Elementary School. A committee of parents and staff had applied for the BEF grant motivated by the belief that a garden provides powerful experiential learning opportunities for students. As a school community, we believe that a garden is an important learning tool that will help students build a love and appreciation for nature and promote healthy and sustainable food choices. Gardens also make ideal outdoor classrooms where learning happens through direct hands-on experience and can be integrated into the school curriculum in many subject areas; math, English science, art, and history.
A garden plan was created, with the assistance of a Cornell Cooperative Extension Master Gardener and parent volunteers, and on a cold March morning a group of parents, staff, and students gathered to begin garden construction. Three 4 x 8' raised beds were assembled and placed in the school's inner courtyard, a full-sun area that already featured a seating area and a water source. This location allows for all students in the school to observe the ever-changing nature of the garden, even if their class is not directly involved in the maintenance and care. In early May, school community members attending Brighton Clean Sweep completed the garden set-up tasks by filling the raised beds with soil and compost and preparing perimeter flower beds. By the middle of May the FRES garden was ready for planting! A kick-off assembly was held for participating classes and the opening of the garden was highlighted during the FRES Earth Day Celebrations. All classes throughout the building celebrated the creation of the garden by planting flower and pumpkin seeds. It was thrilling to see over 700 students outside on Earth Day digging in the dirt!
Five fifth grade teachers and their classes took over primary responsibility for the care and maintenance of the three raised-bed edible gardens. In early spring these classes were taught how to grow herbs, fruits and vegetables such as lettuce, tomatoes, basil, squash, radishes, and beans. As part of their science study, students started seedlings in class and then moved them outdoors into the raised beds when the weather allowed. Students were able to directly experience the growth cycle from seed to fruit and literally enjoyed the fruits of their labor by sampling produce harvested from the garden through the summer and early fall. Summer school students, with the assistance of FRES family volunteers, maintained the garden through the summer months and students and teachers benefited from having the opportunity to take their learning outside.
As the 2011-2012 school year begins there are many exciting new developments with the FRES Garden! FRES parent volunteers have paired up with two fourth grade teachers and a special education teacher for primary garden responsibility. Fourth grade partner teachers, Robin Leckenby and Jessica Willis, will be attending a New York State Outdoor Education Association conference in late October and will bring back valuable information on how to incorporate the garden into instruction. We plan to use the garden across all curricular areas and are particularly excited about the possibility of tying the garden into the fourth grade history curriculum by researching Colonial era agricultural practices and planting a colonial-era kitchen garden as well as a Native American Three Sisters garden. The outdoor learning opportunities are bountiful and will enrich the students' classroom instruction in a very engaging way.
In September 2010, United States Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, stated that "Right now, in the second decade of the 21st century preparing our students to be good environmental citizens is some of the most important work any of us can do." It is our hope that the French Road School Garden will help prepare our students to be just that, good environmental citizens who think critically about their relationship with the natural world around them.
We are very appreciative of all of the organizations whose support made the French Road Garden a reality. A very special thanks to the Brighton Education Fund whose generous grant provided the garden start-up funds. Thanks also to the Garden Lover's Club of Brighton, Matthews and Fields Lumber, The Garden Factory, and many Anonymous Donors and FRES families and staff who contributed time, energy, and resources. We look forward to keeping the community posted on what's growing at French Road and we always welcome community volunteers and donations. If you are interested in helping the French Road School Garden please contact parent representative, Adrienne Markus, at 244-6149 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
story by Jessie Nimeh,
FRES parent gardener