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NC - DeLaveaga Elementary School

Santa Cruz, California

A group effort means a great garden for a diverse school community

A quarter acre on the DeLaveaga Elementary School property was put to delicious good use when an abundant garden was planted there. A grant from Whole Kids Foundation laid the groundwork for the extensive learning complex, which now includes about 25 raised beds, several fruit trees, and an outdoor classroom. The garden is an integral part of the school's curriculum, playing a part in the science and nutrition courseloads as well as offering gardening projects. What's more, as part of the school's bilingual immersion program, classes are now conducted in both English and Spanish. This was begun in order to honor the needs of all of the schoolchildren.

Creating and maintaining the garden required the help of many hands, but it was done with much eagerness. "We reached out to community members more and started monthly workdays on Saturdays for students and their families," says the DeLaveaga garden team. "We were blown away by the excitement and support! Our garden coordinator worked with 40-65 volunteers every month to move compost, weed, mulch pathways, prune perennials, clear brush, and keep our garden looking great." The school's garden team used funds from the grant to purchase planting, curriculum, and building materials, along with tools.

Science and gardening go hand in hand, and this year the school began a garden-based science program that used Next Generation Science Standards. The classes—and young "Garden Scientists—have been enjoying using the space for learning. Practical experience in biology, chemistry, ecology, environmental science, and more are available to the students in the garden. And it's winning favor with the ones who matter most—the kids. This happy thumbs-up comes from one of the DeLaveaga second-graders: “My favorite part of school is Thursday at 9:25 when we go to the Life Lab Garden.”

Another exciting milestone: instead of buying nursery starts, this year students grew produce from seed. "This was a great way to demonstrate the life cycle of a plant, talk about the importance of pollinators, and get excited about growing food," says the garden team. "Students participated in every step—sowing the seeds, watering in the greenhouse, transplanting into garden beds, weeding the beds, and harvesting." All of the produce the children grow is enjoyed in one of three ways: it's used in classes, it's prepared and eaten in the school cafeteria, or students take it home to their families.

"Our school garden’s successes are due in a large part to the dedication of our Life Lab Garden Committee--a group of teachers, parents, and our garden coordinator," says the garden team. "We are also very lucky to have a paid garden coordinator who works 25 hours a week to plan curriculum and teach our classes."

The school has more big plans for the garden. "We successfully pitched and had approved by the district a plan to make our outdoor classroom a year-round learning space by adding a roof and retractable walls," the garden team says. "While construction has not yet begun, the Whole Foods grant is helping us fund this project!"