Note: This article was originally published Nov 4 2013.
On October 26th, 2013, members of the West Virginia Food and Farm Coalition School Garden Workgroup held a day long symposium at Christ Church United Methodist, in Charleston. The event was attended by over fifty people, including teachers, school administrators, master gardeners, WVU extension officers, dietetic interns, and AmeriCorps Farm to School volunteers. Attendees had face-to-face access with those on the cutting edge of West Virginia’s growing and vibrant school garden environment.
The event kicked off with a keynote delivered by Robin Anglin-Sizemore, Science Coordinator at the West Virginia Department of Education. Anglin-Sizemore inspired attendees, reminding everyone that “[t]eaching is an action verb,” and garden-based education is an ideal way for students to “experience the learning.”
One session, “Lessons Learned from the North Elementary Panther Pride Garden,” with Laura VanHorn, the Garden Coordinator at North Elementary in Morgantown. Started in 2009, North Elementary School has recently begun using its 13 raised-plot garden as a living classroom for project-based education. Teachers of all grades are discovering new and experiential ways to teach math and science. VanHorn was able to explain how the garden started and how it has grown, what challenges they faced along the way, how they navigated the grant process, and how they are beginning to utilize the AmeriCorps Farm to School Program.
Another session, “The George Washington Elementary High Tunnel Project,” with Mary Beth Myers, Principal and Teacher at George Washington Elementary in Putnam County, let participants see the success that a smaller school was having with integrating school gardening into their curriculum. The high tunnel, which is a large plastic structure traditionally used for season extension on small farms, not only gives the students exposure to the science of growing healthy food, but also allows for leadership opportunities. Students are almost entirely in charge of the high tunnel: what crops are grown, whether the temperature needs to be adjusted, and how often plants are watered. Students from higher grades routinely show lower grades the ropes. Several teachers from the school were present, and all of them commented on the myriad of exciting changes they observed in their students because of working in the high tunnel. The high tunnel was the result of a $12,000 Specialty Crop Block Grant through the USDA written by WVU extension officer Chuck Talbott. It also provides an exciting place for Master Gardeners to volunteer with kids and assist in the teaching process.
Other engaging sessions included “What’s Wrong with Our Garden,” led by Patty Gundrum of the WV Department of Agriculture. Gundrum taught participants about common pests that can invade school gardens, as well as how to treat these pests effectively and safely. Teachers Bev Stern and Mimi Davis also led a session entitled “Starting a School Garden,” where they walked attendees through the process of beginning a garden, and how to use gardens for problem-based learning. Later in the afternoon, Laura Dice, the Assistant Project Coordinator at KEYS 4 HealthyKids, explained how to create engaging outdoor spaces for learning and physical activity in her workshop “Natural Learning Environments.” For attendees hoping to get started gardening soon, teacher Rachel Brown presented how to make a light box during her session: “Gardening with a Light Box.” This session also described creative ways of gardening indoors.
After lunch, which was provided for all participants by the West Virginia Food and Farm Coalition, attendees of the symposium split into two groups to walk to two local gardens sites: Christ Church, and Piedmont Elementary. The Christ Church gardens provided an opportunity to talk about soil quality and weed control, while the Piedmont Elementary gardens were used for demonstrations of soil amendments such as compost and peat moss. Volunteer guides were peppered with questions from an engaged and excited audience.
The symposium continued with a presentation on the ins and outs of grant writing presented by Laura Dice. Handouts were provided to show how grants were usually graded and scored.
Finally, the symposium ended with the official launch of the new West Virginia School Gardens Website: http://wvschoolgardens.org/. This site is a collaboration of the School Gardens working group and the WVU Extension Service, and will provide a hub to store and share resources related to school gardens such as lesson plans, curriculums, articles, and insights into areas such as funding, community engagement, and working with volunteers. The site is searchable by both grade-level (pre-k – 6th) and subject (math, science, language arts, health). Check it out today, and help us build this exciting resource by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org!