Did you know the KES PTO keeps a garden?! Like, an edible garden! And a butterfly garden! And a greenhouse! I knew about the greenhouse because I was once lost on the second floor and thought, “Look. A greenhouse.” In theory, I knew there was a garden because one of my kids pulled garlic out of her backpack when I was making pasta e fagioli while laminating my inability to keep a head of garlic in the fridge. You’d think at that point, I’d ask, “Hey! You grow garlic at school?! That’s amazing!”
But no, it wasn’t until I wandered around the back of the building that I saw it. There are colorful flowerpots stuffed with marigolds, thick spiky vines supporting huge pumpkins, cucumbers dangling through the deer fencing, and the large yellow flowers of a squash plant patiently waiting for a honey bee.
It’s a remarkably lush and established garden. It’s a bit astonishing that such a hidden wonderland could exist without much fanfare. After I found the gardener in charge, Margi Corsello, I joked with her that I had never seen the garden before. She wasn’t surprised.
I don’t think I am alone in thinking of “school” as what goes on in the building while the outside is for recess and such.
So here, in case you’re dense like me, is what goes on in the KES PTO gardens:
- In that garden, right now, there are pumpkins (huge, ready-for-harvest pumpkins), cucumbers (some mature, some not, some yellow, some green), tomatoes (ripe red and yellow alongside turgid green, unripe tomatoes) basil (it smells divine and is tangled with its existential neighbor -tomato), sage (fragrant and fuzzy), peppers (bright red, unassuming, leaning against a fence), not to mention sugar snap peas, beans, sunflowers. Perhaps the most amazing part is that not only will your kids help plant, tend, and harvest all of it, but they will learn HOW and WHY it grows.
- Margi, a gardening expert, is paid by the PTO to teach children in K- 5 all about gardening. You might think this is merely a pleasant diversion for the children. But when I stopped by the garden the other day to see Margi deliver the fall harvest lesson to some kindergarteners, I realized that this garden (while seeming a luxury unworthy of academic consideration) is actually a living classroom and everything taught in that classroom is deeply intertwined with the curriculum of each grade level. The kids first discussed their 5 senses, before identifying basil, sage, tomatoes, and sunflowers. It seems so basic but it is the first block, the biggest block, of 5 years of gardening. The leaves of each plant were shown about, the class was divided in 4 groups, and the groups were sent out to identify the plants in the garden. Using their keen sense of sight (and only their sense of sight), the kids identified the plants. Their sense of touch would come into use later for harvesting. With patience and contained excitement, the kids walked about finding their basil hiding behind tomato stalks or the sunflowers identifiable by their floppy leaves. And I didn’t see any of them touch anything.
- Those same Kindergarteners will explore the parameters of their five senses while learning to identify seeds and leaves, and when a plant is ready to be harvested (or not). And when they plant pumpkin seeds in June, they will harvest those pumpkins in 1st grade, and those pumpkins (their pumpkins!) will become pumpkin muffins, breads, etc., for their 1st Grade Thanksgiving Feast. Meanwhile, they learn about how a seed becomes food.
- It’s a living, perpetual science experiment and the science involved is taught in grade specific lessons and terminology which advance in complexity through the years. For now, those Kindergartens will identify leaves, seeds, and seedlings. And next year, they’ll learn how a seed becomes a seedling, plant parts, and how seeds disperse themselves. In a couple of years, they’ll learn all about herbs and caterpillars, species interdependency, butterflies and butterfly habitats. And a year later, they’ll be dissecting flowers, learning about the plant life cycle, and the science of soil. After all the science of growing, 4th graders learn all about the Three Sisters (that’s garden speak for corn, beans, and squash), how a stable community needs a nutritious, constant food supply, and, ultimately, the history of and between Pilgrims and Native Americans.
- Any gardener will tell you that a garden is constantly in a cycle; it is never “done” or “finished”. The 4th graders may taste the Three Sisters but they’re going to have to plant them so next year’s 4th graders get a taste. Ultimately (in 5th grade), they will be able to tie the cultivation of certain plants (hot peppers, black beans, cilantro) to specific geographic locals and the impact of planting routines on a cultural food palette (Mexican food, for instance). The 5th graders get to enjoy the fruit of their labors (sage chips!) but before the school year ends and they set off to Middle School, leaving the Garden behind, they partner up with some of those Kindergarteners to plant some pumpkins. Because those Kindergarteners are going to need the same scientific foundation they themselves received in years prior.
As a child ages through KES, familiarity with and understanding of scientific principles learned in the Garden inform their understanding of the historical and cultural paradigms they learn in other subjects.
But back to that garlic I mentioned earlier. Apparently, it is planted in November. So, if you have a 1st grader this year, next September your kid may nonchalantly pull garlic out of his backpack. At least you’ll know where it came from and, if you’re interested, go take a look behind the school to see exactly where it was grown. There’s a whole world back there. Your kids know all about it.
– Anne Foray