I wanted it to be a community

Posted Sep 17, 2017

A few years ago our lead gardener retired. She approached me and said, “Hey Matt, you’re working in the garden next year.” And I said, “I am?” And she said, “Oh good! That’s not a ‘no.’” That’s kind of how it happened.

Last year was my first year. It was a transition year but I was really proud of how the kids really stepped up and showed an interest. Over the summer I wanted to make sure we could really keep things moving. I created a SignUpGenius so the kids and the parents could volunteer. I wanted it to be a community. Community is a big part of the classroom; it’s a big part of our school and I want it to be a part of our garden as well. We had parents, students and neighbors come in over the summer on Mondays. I had a core group of kids who came every single week. We had a blast! We got our fingernails dirty. Sometimes they took their shoes off and we just turned loose in the garden and did what needed to be done. Usually we pulled weeds and there were a couple of projects that we did. I was able to help the kids — under really strict supervision — use a wood burning iron for the first time. We used it to carve in some posts for signs to show what we were growing. It’s child-made. The point of it was to bring the kids back to the school under the context of community and fun. Sometimes kids just associate school with work and dread, and I wanted it to be a place where they feel welcome and involved and important. Everything in the garden was student-centered.

We’ve taken a few weeks off. You know what happens when you don’t take care of a garden for a few weeks — that’s kind of where we are now. But we’ll be starting up an Eco Club to meet throughout the school year. We’ll lead the school in working in the garden so we want to align it to some objectives. We’re looking for second grade to work on the Three Sisters and perhaps fifth grade to work on a Colonial garden to show what the Colonists may have grown. And then, even native plants for fourth grade because they’re doing Virginia studies.

There’s been a lot of help. A lot of teachers in the building have put in their expertise. I don’t have a green thumb so I don’t know why I’m leading the garden. Sometimes it just takes a person who is willing not to say, ‘No.’ I’m learning all kinds of new things about gardening, about plants and about ecology, and hopefully the students will join me on that learning journey.