HOW DOES YOUR GARDEN GROW? — In the Learning Garden at George Julian School 57, students make creative labels for their plants. Below, the fruits and veggies are growing in abundance.
May 18, 2018
IPS students are learning about science, math and language arts, but at several schools throughout the district these lessons are coming from an unlikely place — the garden.
Learning Gardens are cropping up in many IPS schools, thanks to a partnership with Big Green, a national nonprofit co-founded by Kimbal Musk, owner of two new Indianapolis restaurants (Hedge Row and Next Door).
These “outdoor classrooms” have been a catalyst for districtwide improvements in childhood nutrition, socialization and student achievement.
There are currently 32 Learning Gardens in Indianapolis, with 18 in Indianapolis Public Schools. The first two IPS Learning Gardens were installed in November 2016 at William McKinley School 39 and Global Preparatory Academy at Riverside 44.
Edwin Membreno, a science teacher at Global Prep, quickly found ways to utilize the garden as a teaching tool. During a lesson on plant life cycles, he brought students out to the garden to see, touch, smell and taste what they had learned about inside.
They’ve also explored the fruiting bodies of cucumber plants, seeing firsthand the seeds growing inside the fruit. They continued to harvest those cucumbers as well as scallions, chard, beets, zucchini, tomatoes, kale, collards and herbs, yielding an estimated 25-pound harvest!
Cold Spring School, which focuses on environmental studies, launched its Learning Garden in March 2017. Teachers Whitney Seidman and Christy Nichols introduced “Garden Bites” in their after-school STEM club, where students tend the garden, harvest the produce and prepare meals using garden produce.
“It’s a wonderful place that the kids can be part of and connected to,” said Cold Spring Chief Operating Officer Carrie Bruns. “Science is the most commonly taught subject in the learning garden, but they’re also learning math and even literacy skills. Kids frequently come to read or journal in the garden.”
At George Julian School 57 this spring, Parent Involvement Educator Holly Combs and middle school art teacher Tanya Fee-Bouthot teamed up to create a sixth-grade garden club tailored to fit the middle school’s morning specials block. Together their students care for the garden and create art-based garden projects, which include making labels for the plants in the garden and drawing interpretations of plant life cycles.
Researchers say school gardens — sometimes called “living classrooms” — nurture more than just plants. Students who participate in school gardens are more engaged learners, achieve higher test scores, and eat more fruits and vegetables than their non-gardening peers.
At IPS, the gardens also provide a great way to bring the classroom outside, and allow students to enjoy fresh air and a fresh perspective on academic subjects.
According to Big Green, there will be gardens in 50 Indianapolis schools by the end of 2018, and 100 by 2020. The first high school Learning Garden will be built at Shortridge High School during the 2018 fall semester.