[the_ad_placement id=”banner-right-placement”]

[the_ad_placement id=”banner-left-placement”]

Second graders in Stephenie McMorrow’s (far left) Pioneer School class are happy to work and ready to learn in their campus garden under the guidance of Garden Manager Keri O’Reilly. Photo by Roni Java

Student gardens teach far more than veggies, soil and bugs

“School gardens are essential, they help our sprouts grow into whole students,” Garden Manager Keri O’Reilly told the school board Feb. 12. “It’s fantastic work and we’re really proud of the curriculum we use at each site. It brings consistency to the students’ lessons.”

O’Reilly is one of a number of school garden managers working for the Plumas Unified School District. She teaches K-6 students in 11 classes a week between Quincy Elementary’s Alder Street campus and the Pioneer School location on Mill Creek Road.

The educator delivered her program update before a room filled with teachers and families when the PUSD’s Governing Board of Trustees held their regular meeting at district headquarters in downtown Quincy.

Science and patience together

As one might imagine, the classes teach students to work with soil and make compost, size up garden bed planting areas, measure plant growth and other valuable gardening skills.

They also teach a great deal more. All PUSD school garden programs integrate their lessons with the district’s outstanding Outdoor Core science education program that is designed to create well-rounded “Mountain Kids” from kindergarten through 12th grade.

“School gardens are a huge outdoor laboratory for our teachers to use,” O’Reilly said. “Gardening education is a central piece of project-based learning. It’s about contextual, real-world learning and helps students develop their social and emotional health.”

For example, young gardeners learn to cultivate patience, cooperation and empathy while working with soil, seeds, plants and weather conditions. O’Reilly explained that her students experience the importance of anticipating the needs of their plants, how to be nurturing and care for living things.

“Take weeding, for example,” she told the trustees, smiling. “Weeding teaches that everyone needs their personal space, even plants.”

Spinach is yummy?

Nutrition and wellness education factor in, too.

“Every garden educator and parent knows what it’s like to have a picky eater in the group,” the instructor commented. “But it’s wonderful to see how fast a student can enjoy eating fresh leaves out of a bed of spinach just because they’ve grown it.”

O’Reilly is enthusiastic about her work and said gardens make schools a wonderful place to be.

“Kids develop a sense of ownership because they’re doing the work,” she explained.

Gardens and the real world

On another day, a visitor to the Pioneer School garden had a chance to see Stephenie McMorrow’s second-graders busy with shovels, working the compost pile, and classmates trying out bites of just-picked spinach.

Nearby, others gently tended some bedding boxes of new transplants of feverfew, a medicinal herb traditionally used for the treatment of fevers, migraines, arthritis, stomach pain, toothaches, insect bites and more.

“Have you ever had to move to a new place or a new house?” O’Reilly asks the students. “Being transplanted is like that for plants, so let’s make a cozy hole and gently put some mulch around them.”

Teacher McMorrow strolled around the garden, monitoring each group project.

“I like that the students always have a purpose when they’re working out here,” she said, “Today, Keri has been teaching them about the water cycle and we do that in class, which is great.”

McMorrow said teachers appreciate the real-world experience that school garden lessons provide. The classes offer a sense of relevance that helps with student understanding back in the classroom.

“Having access to learning in the garden also helps build their skills as a team,” McMorrow explained. “They need to be able to see something through, at all grade levels, and these lessons will help our students in school, in the workplace and all of their lives.”

[the_ad_placement id=”banner-left-placement”]