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SW - Texas School for the Deaf

Austin, Texas

A garden makeover produces veggies, flowers, and smiles

The garden at Texas School for the Deaf was in need of some TLC. For years it had languished, overgrown and rotted, and was due for a fresh new start. Things began to change for the better once the school received a grant from Whole Kids Foundation. The funds went toward building materials along with soil and compost.

The staff scrapped the old beds and built 11 new ones. Eight are four by six feet each, made of corrugated tin and redwood; three are four by four feet each. Two of the beds are now butterfly gardens, replete with milkweed, lantana, and flat-leaf parsley. The rest are allotted to each classroom—one bed per class.

The school's littlest gardeners, in the pre-school and toddler classes, planted marigolds in their beds. The older students planted "many varieties of vegetables and it was awesome--we had vegetables all spring and summer," enthuses garden coordinator Carillynne Gay. "The watermelons were the biggest hit!" Harvest time was a special treat for everyone involved. "We enjoyed the fruits and vegetables and shared with staff. The garden was so productive this year," says Carillynne.

Children of all ages had hands-on experience with the life cycle of a garden, fron learning how to plant to what a garden needs to produce most successfully. "We learned so much about plants and how to care for them and their impact on our environment and our lives," says Carillynne. "Learning about parts and needs of plants. Insects that are beneficial. Flowers for the bees and their impact on our lives. Earthworms and what they do for the soil."

Every element added to the garden project contributed to the joy, power, and learning of the students' experience. "The garden was a classroom: the artichoke plant with its alien flower was a popular item to draw. We had a bee keeper come and address the kids about the importance of bees. We watched caterpillars eat the milkweed down to nothing and spin beautiful cocoons and fly away. We made a movie of those events. We bought ladybugs and learned about beneficial insects….We grew and ate some vegetables that some kids did not like before, but tried them because they grew them." 

What's more, having the opportunity to plant and tend to a garden taught children social and cooperative skills, ones they will use all of their lives. They also learned how hard work and dedication can lead to great benefits—not just beautiful produce and flowers, but a sense of accomplishment. "The smiles on their faces and pride was so evident. I hope we made some life time gardeners," Carillynne says.

One of the greatest pleasures of the garden was undoubtedly the sunflowers. "Our girls in first grade would stand by the giant sunflowers and beam," Carillynne adds.

The school plans to use remaining funds for spring planting, and everyone is excited and grateful for the next growing season. "Whole Foods came to our rescue….This garden started a GREEN revolution at the school," Carillynne says.