Students across Spring Branch ISD are gaining valuable skills and expanding their Limitless Curiosity through gardening. Aside from harvesting fruits and vegetables, they are also learning about birds, migration cycles and even food chains.
Wilchester Elementary has partnered with a garden educator from Ready to Grow Gardens, an organization dedicated to helping students establish thriving gardens. The garden specialist works with second, third, fourth and fifth graders by teaching them how to grow and cultivate various plants in the garden. The educator spends a full day with each grade level, having each class rotate through the garden.
“This is an experience that our students thoroughly enjoy,” said Sarah Dickens, a teacher at Wilchester and program coordinator. “They have the opportunity to see the process, from a seed to food on the table.”
Students have also learned about and observed the monarch life cycle and migration, changes in the garden due to the weather, the ladybug life cycle and the garden food chain.
In the garden, Wilchester students plant and harvest sweet potatoes, carrots, lettuce, radishes, beets, turnips, spinach, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, peppers and herbs. Recently, they dug up 46 pounds of sweet potatoes!
Spring Branch Academic Institute (SBAI) also has a garden that students attend.
“As a social studies teacher, I strive to teach students good citizenship,” said Joshua Rohn, teacher at SBAI. “ Gardening is a wonderful way to show care for your school and teaches students how to be responsible citizens.”
The SBAI garden has five plant beds and students will soon harvest eggplants, basil and jalapenos.
Students at Frostwood Elementary have also been engaging in gardening activities. Parents helped establish the garden in 2014 and it has since remained active, even receiving a grant from the Spring Branch Education Foundation.
Frostwood PTA Garden Chair Missy Purgason notes that students have an opportunity to draw connections from life studies they do in the classroom to the real-life studies they witness in the garden.
Students are often mixing soil, sowing seeds, harvesting edible items, exploring host plants for caterpillars, discovering the life cycle of insects, witnessing hummingbirds drink nectar and more.
The Frostwood garden, sponsored by the Frostwood PTA, consists of six vegetable garden beds, a large central raised pollinator bed and two large native plant beds.
“It’s a great experience for students,” said Purgason. “Last year, second graders were able to enjoy the fruits of their garden labor. They tasted sweet potatoes, radishes, turnips, leafy greens, chives, carrots and broccoli. Many tasted a vegetable they had never been willing to try before — and they liked it!”
The garden at Spring Branch Elementary (SBE) has been active for over 30 years.
Deb Stutsman, former librarian at SBE, now runs the program as a volunteer. She notes that the garden has two sides, one where students get to grow produce and the other that is specifically reserved for pollinator plants.
Each grade level gets the opportunity to grow different crops, including spinach, cilantro, green beans, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, peppers, tomatoes, sweet onions, carrots and herbs. The students harvest the produce and take a small bag home to share with their families.
“The mission of our garden is to serve as an outdoor classroom that gives students up close and hands-on experiences in an authentic natural setting,” said Stutsman. “They learn about nature by raising butterflies and observing pollinators and garden critters, nutrition by growing vegetables and gain gardening knowledge and memories that can last a lifetime. A school garden can be an exciting and essential extension of the regular classroom!”
In 2011, parent Diana Liga designed and helped establish a garden at Pine Shadows Elementary (PSE) when the school was rebuilt. Today, the garden has five beds filled with pollinator plants.
Luisa Rodrigues, parent liaison at PSE, notes that the garden neighbors the science lab and students are often seen exploring the garden to make connections from the content learned to nature.
Once a year during Family Garden Day, students and their families help beautify the garden by tearing out weeds and planting new pollinator plants.
“As children come through our garden, a seed of curiosity is planted in their hearts which we hope will grow into a deeper connection to the natural world,” said Rodrigues.
View the full album of school gardens!