How does your garden grow?

Elem Sch Garden Whisp Oak
Elem Sch Garden Whisp Oak
  • West Orange Times & Observer
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Elem Sch Garden Whisp Oak

An outdoor classroom will allow students at six schools to learn about growing their own fruits and vegetables.

Six elementary schools in Winter Garden have received grants to build edible, sustainable gardens through Orlando Health Foundation’s “Growing Healthy Children” project. Construction has begun at Dillard Street, Lake Whitney, Maxey, SunRidge, Tildenville and Whispering Oak, and each will have 12 raised beds measuring three feet by eight feet, a shaded area, a shed to store gardening tools and a rain barrel for collecting rainwater to use in the garden.

This project has been spearheaded by Health Central Hospital with a majority of the funding being provided by the West Orange Healthcare District.  Funding also has come from resources such as the city of Winter Garden and various community organizations, including the Bloom & Grow Garden Society and the Bond Foundation. Ace Hardware also contributed garden materials.

Construction is estimated at $20,000 for each school, and operating and maintenance costs are estimated at $26,000 per year, according to Sarah Stack, who is serving as the liaison between the schools and Health Central. The schools will likely raise funds in support of their gardens.

Once the raised beds are built and teachers finalize their garden lesson plans, the vegetables, fruits and flowers will be planted. The schools could have a harvest by the end of this year.

The school principals assisted in assigning the garden coordinators “based on their passion and enthusiasm for school-based garden education,” Stack said. “Some are longtime gardeners, while others are learning; however, all of our coordinators believe in school based gardening as a hands on tool for experiential learning as well as providing students an opportunity to learn about vegetables and fruits, composting, sustainability, water awareness and health.”

Administrators at each school decide how the garden will be utilized. At Maxey Elementary, science lab teacher Cathy Errion is coordinating the project. She said students in second through fifth grades will participate during their science lab.

Cathy Moore, of Whispering Oak, said the school plans to include all students.

“It is the plan of our school that the students will be able to participate in various ways based on Florida Standards, as well as specific activities utilized to fully integrate the Edible Garden Schoolyard Curriculum in the school day,” she said.

This will be combined with the science curriculum, Moore said. “The teaching and learning process will focus on essential life skills regarding food choice, health, environment and the impact it has on our community.”

Laure Hillman is the garden coordinator for Dillard Street. She said there are enough garden beds and planting cycles that every classroom can participate.

“Each teacher/grade level that participates will be deciding how gardening best fits into their curriculum,” Hillman said. “Whether it will be planting vegetables that correspond to a story that is being studied in the classroom, plants that can be utilized to teach science concepts, plants that reflect Florida history or measuring the beds to compute area and perimeter — the garden will be a versatile place for extended learning throughout our curriculum.

“Our hope is that our special area team can also add their touch to the space,” she said. “We are excited as a staff to come up with creative ways that growing can expand and support our curriculum.

For the past two summers, the coordinators have attended a local Edible Schoolyard Academy training hosted by the Orlando Junior Academy. Ed Thralls, of the Orange County Co-operative Extension, also provided invaluable education to the coordinators and will serve as a resource for them.


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