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Washington, D.C.

Helping hands—between students and across a community—are grounds for success

It's fascinating how building, maintaining, and harvesting vegetables from a garden can bring people together and become the basis for learning. At KIPP DC, grant money from Whole Kids Foundation was met with in-kind donations and much collaborative effort. The payoff was worth it—the students gained knowledge and made a connection with their community, and leftover funds were used for a second planting.

The school's first planting was done within four above-ground planters. It was filled with donated organic soil and filled with mustard greens, lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, beets, thyme, oregano, and basil.

Garden coordinator Sam Zivin breaks down goals achieved into two parts: education and connection.

KIPP DC students have the hands-on opportunity to work with a productive garden amid an urban landscape—a new experience for many of them. They learn produce comes from farms, and in the act of planting and tending to their own garden, they are able to see what goes into a successful harvest. With obesity on the rise, the chance to learn about whole foods and their inherent nutrition is a boon. By taking part in the garden project, "students are more excited about eating fresh fruits and vegetables, which we hope will encourage them to continue to make healthy eating choices," Sam adds. And "we hope that the students will take the knowledge they have gained and share it with their families and friends."

Science students have studied the garden in depth, observing the plants and learning how the seasons, the weather, and other variables factor into a plant's natural cycles. Reading, writing, and geography classes have also been able to glean lessons from the garden.

KIPP DC's preschool students were treated to a cooking demonstration with a professional chef, who prepared vegetables harvested from the school garden.

As far as connection goes, the gardening project was a "chance for students of different ages to work together in a cooperative way," Sam says. "We found this to be a mutually constructive experience: older students were able to act as role models and felt empowered by the responsibility, and younger students benefitted from the exposure to the 'big kids' they look up to."

And connection went beyond the school grounds; the gardening project attracted several enthusiastic local leaders who pitched in on planting day. "We feel strongly that it is our duty to act as good neighbors and improve the state of the neighborhood in any way we can," Sam says.

One of the greatest lessons the garden is teaching KIPP DC students is the old adage "slow and steady wins the race." A garden requires patience, hard work, and resilience. It is a living example that teaches students a precious lesson: "the value of dedication and perseverance," Sam says.

The second planting of produce included some of the plants that grew especially well, along with a few new varieties.

Looking ahead, KIPP DC hopes to extend its outreach to other schools and to include them in their gardening endeavors.

"The garden has provided a great avenue for strengthening connections and forming new ones," says Sam.