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Back to school also means back to the garden for some kids
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Back to school also means back to the garden for some kids

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Some teachers are preparing more than their classrooms for a new year of reading, writing and ‘rithmetic.

They’re also are prepping for gardening.

Five teachers say they don’t get paid to care for their campus gardens over the summer and often pay for supplies. But they do the work for the love of students and gardening.

CATCHING UP

Who: Sarah Grant, second-grade teacher at Craycroft Elementary School.

Summer gardening schedule: Inaccessible for three weeks.

Wish list: Gardening gloves for students.

Why she does it: “I want the kids to have a hands-on activity.”

Grant had students sow watermelon, tomato, zucchini and sunflowers at the end of last school year and some continued to garden during summer school.

Then the school closed and Grant couldn’t get in to keep up the garden. When she finally went back about three weeks before the start of classes, “I found clumps of grass about up to my knees,” Grant says.

She weeded on her own every day and grew tomato and bell pepper starts in her own garden. “Those will be ready to plant when the kids get back to school,” she says.

The students tend the garden as well as write observations as part of their language arts lessons.

VANDALISM RECOVERY

Who: Moses Thompson, Tucson Unified School District’s ecology and sustainability program coordinator focusing on Manzo Elementary School.

Summer gardening schedule: All summer, along with making repairs after vandals damaged the greenhouse and other facilities last spring.

Wish list: District funding of school gardens.

Why he does it: “It’s a real-world application of what (students) learn in the classroom.”

While Thompson has a districtwide job, he spends most of his time at Manzo. He developed its extensive gardening program that includes greenhouses, plant beds, a chicken coop, aquaponics and water harvesting.

He, another staff member and a teen volunteer have spent the summer gathering crops and eggs, maintaining the aquaponics system and caring for the chickens and fish.

Thompson developed a special planting calendar for teachers “so we can align our planting schedule to harvest everything by May and turn off the irrigation.”

COMMUNITY EFFORT

Who: Molly Reed, outdoor learning teacher at Borton Magnet School.

Summer gardening schedule: The community garden was tended all summer. The gardens for individual classrooms were dormant.

Wish list: Benches for students to sit on while writing in science journals.

Why she does it: “To keep things alive and beautiful for the school.”

Reed and Mike Amundson, the school’s garden teacher, spent summer break maintaining the squash, eggplant, peppers, beans and other edibles that the children planted in May. The compost pile was left alone and someone adopted the chickens while school was out.

The community garden, which is tended by children, parents and other volunteers, grows produce that’s served in the school cafeteria and produces seeds that are shared with the school’s families. Several smaller gardens are used by classes for various lessons.

Two community work days in the weeks before classes resume drew a number of volunteers who cleaned out the garden and planted more crops, Reed says. “Our school community is so generous. Borton families and teachers always lend a hand.”

The individual gardens, however, will get restarted once the school year begins. Says Reed: “We will wait to work with the kids on cleaning and planting so they don’t think the magic garden fairies did all the work.”

BUILDING COMMUNITY

Who: Oscar Medina, social studies, history, government and urban agriculture and environmental literacy teacher at Changemaker High School.

Summer gardening schedule: Producing all summer.

Wish list: Participants for the school’s Aug. 29 planting of native trees.

Why he does it: “We work and play and live in the neighborhood. We’re working on establishing community.”

Changemaker, a charter school formerly called the Western Institute for Leadership Development, has a 16-bed terraced edible garden, composting and aquaponics systems and three greenhouses. They were all built by students and require maintenance year-round, Medina says.

Staff and students voluntarily spent the summer harvesting edibles and taking care of the tilapia.

“We’re trying to put together a program where students can get stipends next summer,” Medina says.

The school maintains a summer garden because “we want (students) to see how the garden grew over the summer.”

“We believe in this work and we know it has a rub-off effect,” Medina says. “Once we start building gardens and teaching students about sustainability, they will take these practices home and implement them.”

KEEPING IT GROWING

Who: Linda Koehler, fifth-grade teacher at Fruchthendler Elementary School.

Summer gardening schedule: Growing all summer.

Wish list: Kid-sized gardening tools and a shed.

Why she does it: “We take a lot of pride in our school and want everything to look nice.”

Fruchthendler’s garden has been an on-and-off affair, depending on who wants to maintain it.

Last year Koehler stepped up. This summer she and her husband almost singlehandedly maintained the plot of pumpkin, zucchini and other vegetables. As the new school year draws closer, more adults are helping out planting and weeding.

After having to tackle overgrown mint at the end of last summer’s vacation, Koehler figured it was easier just to work on the garden every few days.

“I have learned that if you don’t stay on top if it, it’s a ton of work.”

She wants the returning students to be greeted by a thriving garden so they can see right away what’s growing.

“I find it very rewarding to think the kids enjoy it,” she says.

Contact Tucson freelance writer Elena Acoba at acoba@dakotacom.net.


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