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Sunderland School Gardens – Education and Delight

school gardens

Sunderland School gardens – early in the season

Inch by inch, row by row
Gonna make this garden grow
Gonna mulch it deep and low
Gonna make it fertile ground”

By David Mallett

School gardens can be classed as one of the special classrooms in a school, offering fertile ground for children’s learning. In a school garden students of every age can learn to observe, learn about plant growth, about insects, about the life to be found in healthy soil, and much more. A school garden provides the first practical science lessons.

Sunderland Elementary School has had a small garden for the pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classes. For some years these young children have been able to get their hands dirty and learn to use their eyes as plants are transformed from a tiny shoot to a flower or carrot. However, when they graduated from kindergarten they lost their garden and the fun and learning they had there.

That loss was corrected. Early in the spring of 2017 Flora Cox, Amanda Berg, Darrel Beymer and Molly Wickline, who all work at the school in various capacities formed a garden committee.

Flora Cox said “The garden gave us a wonderful opportunity to teach science in a playful and natural way. We looked for earthworms, wooly bears, grubs, insects; talked about weeds and learned how to pull them out; plant our own produce like kale and carrots and learn how to harvest them and of course eat them. But once the kids graduated from Kindergarten, there was really no carryover to the upper grades.”

Cox said they made a beginning in the spring of 2017. “We staked out a plot in the back playground, removed the sod, and had each grade plant their own crop. They started their seeds indoors and planted them outside. Some seeds like carrots and potatoes were direct sown. Everyone loved doing it. Some vegetables were harvested by children in the summer program. Others like potatoes were harvested in October and cooked and eaten in the first grade classroom by the former kindergartners, now first graders, who had planted them.”

Success must build on success. This year the Sunderland community got involved. J. M. Pasiecnik, a local farmer in Whately, the Sunderland PTO ,

Deerfield Pharmacy, Sugarloaf Nursery, and Cowl’s Lumber provided the funding to buy the wood, screws, and chicken wire for the garden. Warner Brothers Construction donated 12 yards of soil while Atlas Farms and Riverland Farm donated plants. Other donors supplied trowels, gloves.

 Jeff Hubbard and his tractor removed the sod and leveled the site. The garden raised beds and fences were built by the garden committee members Cox, Berg, Beymer and Wickline with a big assist from Vinnie Cabriotti, a parent, and Douglas Cox, a horticulture professor at UMass.

The 6th graders got into the act, too. Cox said “Mrs. Von Flatern’s 6th grade class made 3-D models of our garden from my scaled landscape design and also calculated a hypothetical supply list, a great real life math application which they loved.

Darrel Beymer, Flora Cox, Amanda Berg and Molly Wickline, l-r

Last week I got to meet the garden committee and see the garden myself. Amanda Berg introduced me to Darrel Beymer and Molly Wickline and Flora Cox and gave me a tour of the garden that was built beyond the wonderful playground. Several children who were still at school for the after school schedule followed us into the garden. There were cherry tomatoes to eat, and even kale leaves to nibble.

Cox told me that the garden lent itself to nibbling, but children and parents who stopped by the school during the summer to water (not often necessary this past summer) and weed, were able to take home a vegetable or two for dinner. “I was also surprised at the way the first graders ate that kale,” Cox said.

Gardens are always a work in process. These students are observing and learning how the soil can be improved, and what crops would be best to grow next year. There is always next year.

When we left the vegetable garden we made a stop at the large pollinator garden which is a Monarch Way Station. This big wild looking garden has plants that bees and butterflies like including butterfly bushes, coneflowers, milkweed and Joe Pye weed. The children are learning about the importance of these insects, and what they need.

School gardens

Sunderland school gardens Monarch Way Station

I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to this school garden, and I am happy to report that there are other school gardens where students of all ages learn to follow the cycles of the seasons, life cycles of insects and plants. Four Corners School in Greenfield continues the school garden they’ve had for about five years and involves all the children. I know of at least ten other school gardens.

Amy Donovan of the Franklin County Waste Management District has put 30 vermiculture bins in school classrooms so children can see how worms live and how they make compost for the garden.

The Hawlemont School has created a whole curriculum around agriculture called Hawlemont, Agriculture and You (HAY). They now have a barn for goats and sheep, a hen house, a greenhouse and gardens! Beyond classes children learn more agricultural skills in the afterschool 4-H clubs.

A garden offers lessons in science, in close observation, but also in counting and calculating, reading and recording. Inch by inch our children grow and grow.###

Between the Rows   October 6, 2018

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