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"Activities centered on “This inner city school’s Farm to School program has created a garden that gives students responsibility, happiness, education, and even a place to get away and reflect."

Urban Garden Inspires Students to Participate

It is unlikely to see many successful gardens in an inner city environment. However, students are caring for a flourishing vegetable garden at the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh Charter School, thanks to a Farm to School project helmed by science teacher Theresa Grande.

This school’s students have been given the responsibilities of developing, caring for, and harvesting their garden. The 120 students in Grande’s third, fourth, and fifth grade science classes therefore quickly learn what it takes to keep a garden thriving, and they learn to appreciate the benefits of fresh foods. With very little help from adults toward these ends, the garden easily begins to affect the students’ lives.

Every one of Grande’s students participates in the garden project. Weather permitting, half of her lessons involve garden activities. Seeds are planted inside the classroom, where students observe and care for their development into strong young plants by assuring they are watered and receiving enough light. Some plants are also started in a greenhouse that is located within the school’s garden area. When ready, seedlings are transplanted outdoors into raised beds. After this the students begin weeding and other outdoor gardening duties in earnest. Some of the Kindergarten through 2nd grade students also contribute by visiting the garden and sometimes watering the plants.

Tomatoes, squash, zucchini, and peppers grow in this school’s garden and greenhouse, and the students enjoy eating the food that comes from these plants. Students sometimes pick and wash the produce themselves, and then they get to eat it, too. They take great pride in checking the garden each day and having the responsibility of growing their own food.

There are many educational facets to this project in addition to hands-on experience. For example, students read about the plants they are cultivating, and they use math to compare plant sizes during the growing process. Writing skills are honed in students’ journal reflections about their gardening experiences.

Students use the garden as a haven where they can write in their journals, meditate, and just relax. The garden always welcomes visitors; not only people but nature, too. A bird feeder and salt lick have been added to the surroundings, so birds often stop by as well as a family of deer that has taken a liking to the grounds .

Theresa explains that providing students the opportunity to experience gardening is the most successful part of her school’s Farm to School program. The children don’t just read about plants; instead, they take care of a garden, and during this process they learn about healthful foods. The garden has provided a new and exciting learning environment that keeps them interested and willing to learn more about the subject. This inner city school’s Farm to School program has created a garden that gives students responsibility, happiness, education, and even a place to get away and reflect.

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