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Nurturing Nature’s Classroom: William McKinley School 39’s Thriving Garden Ecosystem

At Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS), we believe that immersing students in nature is essential for fostering a deep appreciation for the environment. As part of our Earth Day series, we’re excited to highlight the incredible garden club at William McKinley School 39, where students are learning firsthand about the wonders of the natural world.

With over 70 years combined teaching experience, Rejenia Cole and Julie Herdman have created a garden that goes beyond just plants. The school’s garden ecosystem features chickens, bee hives, a small orchard area, and a newly added chicken coop, thanks to a grant. Rejenia’s passion for gardening has led her to successfully implement large gardens at other schools through grants and community involvement, bringing her expertise to William McKinley School 39.

Students across all grades actively participate in weeding, planting, and harvesting from the garden areas, which include raised beds growing potatoes, onions, basil, lettuce, and strawberries. The produce grown is not only taken home by students but also shared with families and staff, fostering a sense of community and promoting healthy eating habits.

The garden club’s activities extend beyond the school grounds, with families involved in watering the plants during the summer when school is not in session. This engagement encourages students to take ownership of their environment and understand the importance of collective responsibility in maintaining a healthy ecosystem.

Through hands-on activities like starting seeds, maintaining beds, weeding, and harvesting, students gain a deeper understanding of the natural world. Writing activities and handouts further enhance their knowledge of plants, pests, and nutrition. The garden club also teaches students about sustainability by showing them how to reuse and start plants from clippings, such as spider plants and celery.

The garden at William McKinley School 39 serves as a living classroom, with a flower courtyard area providing a serene space for learning and reflection. As we celebrate Earth Day throughout this week, it’s inspiring to see the dedication of educators like Rejenia Cole and Julie Herdman, who are nurturing the next generation of environmental stewards.

By cultivating a thriving garden ecosystem, William McKinley School 39 is not only teaching students valuable life skills but also instilling in them a profound appreciation for the Earth and all its wonders.